Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Ages: A sixth grader could read this book easily, but it will be interesting also to high school students. (See “Our Take” below)
Plot: Stargirl makes a splash the moment she shows up at Leo’s high school on her first day of tenth grade. The student body crackles with gossip about this strange new girl. They’ve never seen anyone like her. Stargirl was home schooled, and this is her first foray into the traditional education system. She wears outlandish clothes and carries her pet rat Cinnamon around in her bag. She sings to each student on their birthdays, whether or not she’s ever spoken to them before, accompanying herself on her ukulele. She says outrageous things in class and hands out cookies, just because. The students are suspicious at first, then disparaging, but then they grow to admire Stargirl and her antics. But her habit of cheering for both teams when she is recruited for the cheerleading squad turns many against her, and soon, Stargirl is hated by nearly every confused student at her school. Leo, who has been watching from the sidelines for months, finds himself falling for Stargirl, and is pulled into the middle of an ugly battle royal. But can it really be called a battle when cheerful Stargirl seems oblivious to the other students’ ire? Leo, however, whose outlook is more conventional, has an agonizing choice to make: Will he side with the fun-loving, brilliant, free-spirited Stargirl and remain an outcast, or abandon her to rejoin the comfortable ranks of his peers?
Our Take: Spinelli, the genius who brought us the classic Maniac Magee, is equally deft in spinning this unforgettable tale of a free spirit caught in the maelstrom of conformist high school life. Much as we loved Stargirl, at times we felt confusion and frustration at her antics, as Leo must have, wondering why she couldn’t just tone it down a bit to fit in. By the end, however, we were a bit ashamed of ourselves (again, like Leo) for wishing that Stargirl would ever be anything but her inimitable self. This is an excellent book for exploring the themes of individuality and group mentality. The hostility and anger that Stargirl’s kindness brings out in her new classmates is breathtaking, and savvy adults will be able to find plenty of real-world examples of resentment aimed at people or groups who are “different” to share with the kids who read this book.
Stargirl is a particularly excellent choice for high school students who struggle with reading. The writing is simple enough to make it an early middle school-level read, but its protagonists are sophomores and juniors, so high school students won’t feel as though they’re reading “dumbed down” material. It's a great example of the kind of "high interest-low readability" book we've written about before.
Adult Content: None
Good to Know: Good news to those who fall in love with Stargirl: A sequel, Love, Stargirl, is available, as is a Stargirl journal for recording your own wild ideas.