Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Genre: Young Adult
Publisher, Year: Knopf, 2000
Other Works: Love, Stargirl, Maniac Magee
Rating: A or Great Read
Premise: A sort of sweet, loopy girl is new at school. Her odd ways draw a lot of attention, and not all of it positive. A frank look at high school politics and the power of popularity.

In the opening chapters of the book, we meet the title's namesake, Stargirl. And from the start, we know there's something strange about her. Some might say, we know there's something wrong with her. But, this book just might make you rethink what's wrong and what's right, what's normal and what's strange.

She dresses like a hippie one day, then wears a kimino the next. She sings in the cafeteria with her ukelele, her pet rat, Cinnamon, peeking out of her shoulder bag. At first, the other teens are enthralled with her, fascinated by her "originality." But that can't last forever. And when they turn on her, we all are surprised by what transpires.

Spinelli takes on so many difficult themes with this book, including self identity, self esteem, empathy, and the capricious nature of human beings. If you think about it, high school is a fantastic model of the world to learn all of these things. I remember thinking that once I got out of the high school “drama”, as it's been called, real life in the real world with grown-up people would be different. I don’t even think I need to state the obvious that high school is simply a microcosm for the “real world.” +/-

Stargirl tried to defy all those preconceived notions of what’s normal or proper. And, I have to admit, I think I would have found her a little bit offensive at times and a lot odd. At one point, Stargirl shows up at a funeral of a person she’s never really talked to with a family she’s never really befriended, and it made me consider how I would feel if she showed up with her big sunflower bag and pioneer dress at my own father’s wake, even though she’s completely empathetic and not there to make light of the situation. I can’t say for sure what I’d do. I would be confused, that’s for sure. But maybe confusing others was part of the whole purpose. She makes us step back and think about our social conventions and, not only what they mean to us, but why they have meaning. Why do we want to exclude or hurt others? Why can’t we be accepting of taking part in each others’ lives as a community? They are intriguing questions.

Stargirl finds a friend, and eventually a love interest, in Leo, a boy in her grade. He is fascinated by Stargirl, just like the other kids, but for some reason, he is drawn to her more than the others, and he can't put his finger on it. He is torn between his need to be accepted and his attration to Stargirl. In a fit of frustration, he accuses Stargirl of being a saint. It’s interesting that in our minds, as a society, you have to be a saint in order to be selfless. When you boil it down, that’s really what Stargirl is about, setting aside her rather quirky personality, she really just likes people. She likes people more than anything. She just wants to learn about them, and be part of their lives. She wants to celebrate with them when they are happy and cry with them when they are sad. Why should you need to be a saint to do that?

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