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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.