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.
Part fairy godmother, part outcast, part dream-come-true, the star of Spinelli's novel shares many of the mythical qualities as the protagonist of his Maniac Magee. Spinelli poses searching questions about loyalty to one's friends and oneself and leaves readers to form their own answers, said PW in our Best Books citation. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the day that Stargirl, a previously homeschooled sophomore, arrives at Mica High School, she is noticed for her eccentricities: the way she dresses; her overt friendliness and spontaneity; the fact that she plays her ukulele and sings loudly in the school cafeteria; and her genuine lack of concern for what others think of her. At first the school is stunned and doesn't know what to make of her. Then she sparks a school-spirit revolution at a football game, and instantly everyone wants to be her friend. But just as suddenly, the school turns on her and shuns her because she doesn't want to play by the rules of normal school life namely, uniform conformity and spiteful competition. Narrated by Leo, a boy who falls for Stargirl, we listen intently as Leo desperately tries to make her acceptable to others by pleading with her to be someone she is not. Will Stargirl change? Or will she remain the same, charming rebel? This is a delightful, sometimes painful, but always provocative story of first love and teenage popularity. Another well-written work by Spinelli that will particularly appeal to young people and their eagerness to discuss today's high school culture. Genre: Individuality/Popularity 2000, Alfred A. Knopf, 186 pp., $15.96. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Diana Mitchell; Williamston, Michigan
In Spinelli's newest novel, Stargirl, the character matches standards he has previously set. Stargirl is the main character of the novel. And that is her real name...at least temporarily, for she is given to changing her name to match her current philosophical and personality bent. When the viewpoint character, Leo Borlock, sees her for the first time he notices her huge eyes that look like deer's eyes caught in headlights. And this is an appropriate image when Stargirl enters a public high school that is not exactly a hotbed of nonconformity. It is not just appearance that makes her so different¾Stargirl embodies the random-acts-of-kindness approach to life and can not understand the us/them divisions so crucial to high school life. Most of the school turns against Stargirl, who becomes a cheerleader and applauds both teams. This special brand of cheering first brought the team success, but when they fail, she is the obvious scapegoat. Leo, the boy who tells the story, falls in love with Stargirl despite trying to resist. He is swept into a painful conflict. Should he let himself be who he really is and love her, or continue his comfortable, conformist existence? Stargirl, who loves him back, tries to conform but the results are disastrous. Most of Spinelli's books have an underlying theme of conformity. In Stargirl the theme becomes the plot and its effects are devastating. When Stargirl is driven out of town by the cruelties of conformity, Leo is left alone and lonely. The last chapter shows him grown, living by himself, citing the changes in the high school ("Today's Electron marching band is probably the only one in Arizona with a ukulele") and living each day remembering Stargirland wondering if he will ever have another chance. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Stargirl is new at Mica High, and she is nothing like anyone else. She wears pioneer dresses, sings Happy Birthday to students in the lunchroom while strumming a ukulele, and carries her pet rat around school. At first everyone whispers and stares, but for Leo, the intrigue is already turning into attraction. Then suddenly Stargirl becomes the most popular person in schoolshe is different, entertainingbut her popularity does not last long. Due to a combination of events, students begin to turn against her, ignore her, and ridicule her. Because Leo is already in love, they soon spend all of their time together, disregarding the shunning they eXperience. Yet Leo is not completely oblivious to being ignored, and it finally gets to him. He convinces Stargirl to change, to dress and act like everybody else. When she does not regain her popularity, Leo feels he must make a difficult choice. At the end of the book, fifteen years later, he is still coming to terms with that year. Spinelli has created an astute and sensitive narrator who first observes and then eXperiences the perils of nonconformity. The high school eXperience is real in this bookthe lunchroom, school TV studio, football games, and speech contests. Although there probably are not too many Stargirls out there quite like this one, there are plenty who will understand what happened at Mica High and why. There are both light moments and poetic, emotionally mature observations in Stargirl. With the book's high school setting and situations, this entertaining and thoughtprovoking story will appeal to and be enjoyed by junior high and high school readers. PLB VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broadgeneral YA appeal; Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Julie Wilde
"Mica Area High School was not exactly a hotbed of nonconformity," an 11th-grader named Leo wryly points out: "If we happened to somehow distinguish ourselves, we quickly snapped back into place like rubber bands." So when an outrageously dressed new 10th grade student who calls herself Stargirl arrives at Mica, she creates quite a stir. Stargirl serenades people on their birthdays with her ukulele, and brings her pet rat to school in her bag. She practices random acts of kindness, and meditates out in the beautiful Sonoran desert. She's goofy, bizarre, entertainingand endearing. Her amusing antics at a football game gain her an invitation to be a cheerleader, and her performance outshines that of the team. For a brief period, everyone wants to be like Stargirl, and everyone wants to be her friend. But when basketball season comes around and she starts to cheer the opposing team's baskets as well ("I root for everybody!," she says in all sincerity), the school turns against herjust as Leo realizes that he's in love with her. He wishes that she would conform a little, though, and for his sake she tries. When he realizes that they are both being shunned by everyone in the school anyway, he draws back and the relationship ends. Stargirl vanishes, and Leo is left with his regrets. This parable about conformity and individuality has the narrative drive as well as the clear understanding of the emotional world of teenagers that distinguish Spinelli's other popular books, like There's a Girl in My Hammerlock and the Newbery Award-winning Maniac Magee. Stargirl's free spirit and her kind heart leave behind a legacy at the school, after all, and her story may prompt readers togive some thought to tolerance and the price of popularity. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
School Library Journal
Jerry Spinelli's novel, set in small-town Mica, Arizona, is a tender and poignant tale of adolescent relationships. The dynamics between the central characters, Stargirl and Leo, against the backdrop of petty, but entrenched cliques, gives a small window into the painful growth of teenagers and preteens. While the story is compelling, the writing styles don't translate easily to the audio format. Most of the text is narrative, as seen through the eyes of an older Leo, looking back nostalgically on his time spent with Stargirl. Juxtaposed among these memories are "real time" vignettes with dialogue between the assortment of characters. This interplay of time sequences with writing styles demands much of readers/listeners. There are scenes where text is preferable, such as the "Hot Seat" session where Stargirl is pantomiming behind Leo's back. Although narrator John Ritter does an admirable job, it lacks the vitality that Stargirl brings to the story, and the tenderness of Leo's memory. During the dialogues, the voices are not distinctive enough to bring the sense of urgency that is felt while reading the story; it is difficult to sense Hilary's loathing of Stargirl and all she stands for, or Leo's angst as he is torn between "fitting in" and allegiance to Stargirl. His best readings are the dialogues and descriptive passages that engage humor, especially the cheerleading episode as Stargirl spells out "Howdy." The narratives lack a musical vocal quality, and the intonations are predictable. Given that Ritter has strong ability with strictly vocal performances such as the voice for Clifford in Clifford the Big Red Dog (PBS) and other audio works, this could be a story that is better in its print format.-Tina Hudak, St. Bernard's School, Riverdale, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Jerry Spinelli, an author already much acclaimed (his Maniac
Magee won the Newbery Medal in 1991), has produced a poetic
allegorical tale about the magnificence and rarity of true nonconformity,
handsomely bound by his publisher into an unusually pretty little 186-page
New York Times Book Review
Newbery-winning Spinelli spins a magical and heartbreaking tale from the stuff of high school. Eleventh-grader Leo Borlock cannot quite believe the new student who calls herself Stargirl. Formerly home-schooled, Stargirl comes to their Arizona high school with a pet rat and a ukulele, wild clothes and amazing habits. She sings "Happy Birthday" to classmates in the lunchroom, props a small glass vase with a daisy on her desk each class, and reenergizes the cheerleading squad with her boundless enthusiasm. But Stargirl even cheers for the opposing team. She's so threatening to the regular ways of her fellows that she's shunned. No one will touch her or speak to heror applaud her success when she wins a state speech tournament. Leo's in love with her, but finds that if he's with her, he's shunned, too. She loves him enough to try to fit in, but when that fails spectacularly, she illuminates the spring school dance like a Roman candle and disappears. The desertold bones, flowering cactus, scented silenceis a living presence here. So is the demon of conformity, a teen monster of what's normal, a demon no less hideous because it's so well internalized in us all. Leo chooses normalcy over star stuff, but looking back as an adult he finds Stargirl's presence in a hundred different ways in his own and in his former classmates' lives. Once again Spinelli takes his readers on a journey where choices between the self and the group must be made, and he is wise enough to show how hard they are, even when sweet.
From the Publisher
“A magical and heartbreaking tale.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"Spinelli has produced a poetic allegorical tale about the magnificence and rarity of true nonconformity." The New York Times
"Part fairy godmother, part outcast, part dream-come-true, [Stargirl] possesses many of the mythical qualities of Maniac Magee." Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Stargirl is luminescent. . . . This book resonates long after the cover is closed." The Detroit News and Free Press
"Stargirl tells us the captivating story of a magical, mysterious girl. . . . A wonder tribute to nonconformity." Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
When I was little, my Uncle Pete had a necktie with a porcupine painted on it. I though that necktie was just about the neatest thing in the world. Uncle Pete would stand patiently before me while I ran my fingers over the silky surface, half expecting to be stuck by one of the quills. Once, he let me wear it. I kept looking for one of my own, but I could never find one.
I was twelve when we moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona. When Uncle Pete came to say goodbye, he was wearing the tie. I though he did so to give me one last look at it, and I was grateful. But then, with a dramatic flourish, he whipped off the tie and draped it around my neck. "It's yours," he said. "Going-away present."
I loved that porcupine tie so much that I decided to start a collection. Two years after we settled in Arizona, the number of ties in my collection was still one. Where do you find a porcupine necktie in Mica, Arizona - or anywhere else, for that matter?
On my fourteenth birthday, I read about myself in the local newspaper. The family section ran a regular feature about kids on their birthdays, and my mother had called in some info. The last sentence read: "As a hobby, Leo Borlock collects porcupine neckties."
Several days later, coming home from school, I found a plastic bag on our front step. Inside was a gift-wrapped package tied with yellow ribbon. The tag said, "Happy Birthday!" I opened the package. It was a porcupine necktie. Two porcupines were tossing darts with their quills, while a third was picking its teeth.
I inspected the box, the tag, the paper. Nowhere could I find the giver's name. I asked my parents. I asked my friends. I called my Uncle Pete. Everyone denied knowing anything about it.
At the time I simply considered the episode a mystery. It did not occur to me that was being watched. We were all being watched.
"Did you see her?"
That was the first thing Kevin said to me on the first day of school, eleventh grade. We were waiting for the bell to ring.
"See who?" I said.
"Hah!" He craned his neck, scanning the mob. He had witnessed something remarkable; it showed on his face. He grinned, still scanning. "You'll know."
There were hundreds of us, milling about, calling names, pointing to summer-tanned faces we hadn't seen since June. Our interest in each other was never keener than during the fifteen minutes before the first bell of the first day.
I punched his arm. "Who?"
The bell rang. We poured inside.
I heard it again in homeroom, a whispered voice behind me as we said the Pledge of Allegiance.
"You see her?"
I heard it in the hallways. I heard it in English and Geometry:
"Did you see her?"
Who could it be? A new student? A spectacular blonde from California? Or from back East, where many of us came from? Or one of those summer makeovers, someone who leaves in June looking like a little girl and returns in September as a full-bodied woman, a ten-week miracle?
And then in Earth Sciences I heard a name: "Stargirl."
I turned to the senior slouched behind me. "Stargirl?" I said. "What kind of name is that?"
"That's it. Stargirl Caraway. She said it in homeroom."
And then I saw her. At lunch. She wore an off-white dress so long it covered her shoes. It had ruffles around the neck and cuffs and looked like it could have been her great-grandmother's wedding gown. Her hair was the color of sand. IT fell to her shoulders. Something was strapped across her back, but it wasn't a book bag. At first I thought it was a miniature guitar. I found out later it was a ukulele.
She did not carry a lunch tray. She did carry a large canvas bag with a life-size sunflower painted on it. The lunchroom was dead silent as she walked by. She stopped at an empty table, laid down her bag, slung the instrument strap over he chair, and sat down. She pulled a sandwich from the bag and started to eat.
Half the lunchroom kept staring, half starting buzzing.
Kevin was grinning. "Wha'd I tell you?"
"She's in tenth grade," he said. "I hear she's been homeschooled till now."
"Maybe that explains it," I said.
Her back was to us, so I couldn't see her face. No one sat with her, but at the tables next to hers kids were cramming two to a seat. She didn't seem to notice. She seemed marooned in a sea of staring buzzing faces.
Kevin was grinning again. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" he said.
I grinned back. I nodded. "Hot Seat."
Hot Seat was our in-school TV show. We had started it the year before. I was producer/director, Kevin was on-camera host. Each month he interviewed a student. So far most of them had been honor student types, athletes, model citizens. Noteworthy in the usual ways, but not especially interesting.
Suddenly Kevin's eyes boggled. The girl was picking up her ukulele. And now she was strumming it. And now she was singing! Strumming away, bobbing her head and shoulders, singing "I'm looking over a four-leaf clover that I over-looked before." Stone silence all around. Then came the sound of a single person clapping. I looked. It was the lunch-line cashier.
And now the girl was standing, slinging her bag over one shoulder and marching among the tables, strumming and singing and strutting and twirling. Head swung, eyes followed her, mouths hung open. Disbelief. When she came by our table, I got my first good look at her face. She wasn't gorgeous, wasn't ugly. A sprinkle of freckles crossed the bridge of her nose. Mostly she looked like a hundred other girls in school, except for two things. She wore no makeup, and her eyes were the biggest I had ever seen, like deer's eyes caught in headlights. She twirled as she went past, he flaring skirt brushing my pantleg, and then she marched out of the lunchroom.
From among the tables came three slow claps. Someone whistled. Someone yelped.
Kevin and I gawked at each other.
Kevin held up his hands and framed a marquee in the air. "Hot Seat! Coming Attraction - Stargirl!"
I slapped the table. "Yes!"
We slammed hands.