Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out—under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes—for Leo and for the entire school. After 15 years of home schooling, Stargirl bursts into tenth grade in an explosion of color and a clatter of ukulele music, enchanting the Mica student body.
But the delicate scales of popularity suddenly shift, and Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her.
In a celebration of nonconformity, Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the fleeting, cruel nature of popularity—and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
“She was homeschooling gone amok.
She was an alien.
Her parents were circus acrobats.” These are only a few of the theories concocted to explain Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona’s Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a “hotbed of nonconformity,” is stunned by her, including our 16-year-old narrator Leo Borlock: “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”
In time, incredulity gives way to out-and-out adoration as the student body finds itself helpless to resist Stargirl’s wide-eyed charm, pure-spirited friendliness, and penchant for celebrating the achievements of others. In the ultimate high school symbol of acceptance, she is even recruited as a cheerleader. Popularity, of course, is a fragile and fleeting state, and bit by bit, Mica sours on their new idol. Why is Stargirl showing up at the funerals of strangers? Worse, why does she cheer for the opposing basketball teams? The growing hostility comes to a head when she is verbally flogged by resentful students on Leo’s televised Hot Seat show in an episode that is too terrible to air. While the playful, chin-held-high Stargirl seems impervious to the shunning that ensues, Leo, who is in the throes of first love (and therefore scornfully deemed “Starboy”), is not made of such strong stuff: “I became angry. I resented having to choose. I refused to choose. I imagined my life without her and without them, and I didn’t like it either way.”Jerry Spinelli, author of Newbery Medalist Maniac Magee, Newbery Honor Book Wringer, and many other excellent books for teens, elegantly and accurately captures the collective, not-always-pretty emotions of a high school microcosm in which individuality is pitted against conformity. Spinelli’s Stargirl is a supernatural teen character—absolutely egoless, altruistic, in touch with life’s primitive rhythms, meditative, untouched by popular culture, and supremely self-confident. It is the sensitive Leo whom readers will relate to as he grapples with who she is, who he is, who they are together as Stargirl and Starboy, and indeed, what it means to be a human being on a planet that is rich with wonders. (Ages 10 to 14) —Karin Snelson
Barnes and Noble
Daring to Be Different
In a moving and highly engaging tale about the vagaries of adolescent peer pressure, Newbery Medal winner Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Stargirl, a high school student who is startlingly different from everyone else. The need to conform—and unabashed curiosity about those who don’t—are at the heart of this touching tale, which aptly demonstrates the peaks and pitfalls of popularity.
Sixteen-year-old high school student Leo Borlock knows how to fit in at Mica High School. He plays the game like everyone else but is more enthralled than most when a new girl comes to school. Stargirl Caraway is her name, or at least the name she is using for now. And after 15 years of homeschooling, she is decidedly different from even the oddest high school students at Mica High. First there’s her unusual name, one in a long line of odd names that she has chosen to go by, ignoring her given name of Susan. Then there’s the way she looks, shunning makeup and wearing long granny dresses. But all of that is small potatoes when compared to her behavior, which is as weird and bizarre as any of the students at Mica High have ever seen.
Stargirl carries a pet rat around with her and lets it sit on her shoulder whenever she serenades her fellow students with her ukulele. She leaves cards and small gifts on students’ desks and in neighborhood doorways. She somehow knows the birthdays of everyone at the school and makes a point of singing “Happy Birthday” to them in the lunchroom. She often laughs when there is no joke and dances when there is no music. She is outspoken and friendly, yet has no friends of her own. And during basketball season, when asked to join the cheerleading squad, she cheers for every basket made, regardless of which team made the score.
There’s no doubt about it, Stargirl marches to the beat of an all together different drummer. At first, the other students at Mica High are suspicious of her and think she might be a plant, someone placed in the school as a spy or as part of some bizarre psychology experiment. But Stargirl’s whimsical ways and optimistic spirit eventually prove to be irresistible and before long, paranoia gives way to utter fascination. And the most fascinated of all is Leo, who is falling head over heels in love with this quirky girl.
The tide turns swiftly, however, and just as Leo and Stargirl are becoming an item, the student body suddenly decides Stargirl is a freak and a menace. She is shunned by nearly everyone as curiosity turns to disgust. While Stargirl seems blissfully unaware of this shift, Leo sees it, hates it, and starts pressuring Stargirl to try to conform. Solely to please Leo she does so, dressing like everyone else, behaving like everyone else, and even taking back her given name. But in the process of trying to make everyone like her, she loses the very magic and mystery that Leo has come to love in the first place. What’s more, despite the changes, she is still shunned. In the end, Stargirl goes back to her old ways and her individuality will prove to be a key turning point in the lives of many, especially Leo’s.
Spinelli has crafted a tale as magically appealing and fascinatingly offbeat as is its title character. He aptly captures the poignant excitement of young love, the bitter agonies of peer rejection, and the incredible cruelties teenagers all too often inflict on one another. Amid it all is this wondrous generosity of spirit that is Stargirl, a character who proves to be both enthralling and inspirational. Her story is a celebratory, albeit cautionary, tale about being openly accepting of others while remaining true to oneself. —Beth Amos