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‘She was the opposite of cool; she held nothing back.’

A unique new student in school is always the fascinating object of everyone’s attention. Stargirl Carraway, is incredible with her ukulele, long flowing skirts from alternating time periods, and a willingness to dance and sing “Happy Birthday” to her classmates. In fact, the way she acts is, at first, so unbelievable that her peers decide she has been placed in the school by an adult to spy on them. After all, what teenager would parade around the lunch room acting that way?

Leo, the young male protagonist narrator’s description of Stargirl gives clues about the reasons she is different from the others from the very beginning of his story. Similar to her popularity which grows and then declines is Leo’s relationship with Stargirl. Through the closeness he feels for the strange and loveable creature, Leo is able to reveal to the reader some answers to the enigma that is this young girl.

Whereas the other students such as Hillari Kimble, the stereotypical mean girl, are subject to behaviors more common in teenagers, Leo observes things about Stargirl he likes but doesn’t necessarily understand. The more time Leo spends with Stargirl outside of school, he begins to realize that she is pure at heart and her very nature seems organic. She has a connection to her’ special place’ in the desert where she mediates. She even observes people in the community in order to take their photographs and send them cards.  Leo notes at the onset of the novel, but the reader does not realize his meaning until later, ‘We were all being watched.’ Everything she does is done to make others happy. But what makes her odd is that unlike most other people, she doesn’t require recognition for her good deeds. The more Leo learns about the girl he grows to care for as the other kids in school grow to despise her, the reader becomes attaches to her innate beauty as well. She is different and wonderful.

The turning point of Stargirl’s popularity at school occurs when she cheers not only for her school’s basketball team but the opposing side as well. Leo describes the excitement of the students who feel  exhilarated as a group to win. But during the playoffs, an opposing team’s player is hurt and Stargirl runs out to help him. The students who were at first intrigued by her develop a sense of hatred for her individuality. They shun both Stargirl and Leo for associating with her. But hatred is often the result of misunderstanding. Sometimes kids bully each other because they are confused by someone else’s behavior, they are jealous, or they are trying to avoid being bullied themselves. Neither the students nor Leo can comprehend why someone as kind as Stargirl doesn’t have a reaction to others treating her so cruelly.

Leo tries to explain that a person cannot be on everyone’s side, the world doesn’t work this way. But Stargirl does not understand the concept of ethnocentrism (us versus them mentality). “What is an enemy, she asks?” It is almost as though she does not experience human instincts. Leo must clarify the fact that all people belong to groups of some kind and that it is instinctive. Perhaps Spinelli writes about these instincts to pose the question: Is it cruel of other students to feel angry at Stargirl for betraying their team, school, and group? And if it is a biological instinct for humans to shun those who do not conform to societal and cultural norms, how is this dealt with in a school environment?

All ages of readers of Stargirl may recognize the situation that she and Leo face in the story. Leo’s observations are meant to reflect the bigger picture for young people. While Stargirl is a special case because as Leo says, “She had no ego,” the decision Leo faces in choosing between her and everybody else is nothing new. It is a sad reality that the reader knows Stargirl will not be his choice. The pressure will be too great. The question for both students and adults is, how can we make these circumstances change?  The more aware students are of the ramifications of their actions both now and in the future, the better.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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Other books by Jerry Spinelli:

Maniac Magee (1990) Newberry Award Winner, Wringer (1997) Newberry Honor Book, the sequel to Stargirl, Love, Stargirl (2007)