Monday, November 10, 2008

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Have you ever run across a character that just seemed to be too good to be true? In the cynical world we live it is sometimes hard to suspend disbelief when we encounter a character as good as Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. What keeps us from being total cynics is that there is a part of us that wishes there were people (especially teens) as good as Spinelli’s character.
One reviewer described Stargirl as a supernatural teen. That seems about right. She is certainly not what most of us would consider to be a typical teen. Having been home schooled most of her life, Stargirl appears one day out of the blue at Mica High School. She is so far from the norm as to seem to have come from another planet. She doesn’t care about fashion or other types of conformity. But, she does care about people. She serenades students with her ukulele on their birthday. She sends cards, places flowers on their desks, celebrates their successes and mourns their losses. She cheers for everyone.

At first her fellow students react to her with awe. They are eager to see what she will do next and some of her even begins to rub off on them. However, teens are not made to be able to accept things that are too different. They may talk about wanting to have their own identity and wanting to not be part of the crowd, but deep down they really do not want to stand out – to draw attention to themselves. This is the downfall of Stargirl’s boyfriend, Leo. Stargirl’s uniqueness goes beyond what the other students can accept when she begins to cheer for the opposing basketball teams. She doesn’t understand why everyone is upset. She’s everyone’s cheerleader. But when the school’s undefeated season comes to an end in the playoffs everyone blames Stargirl. This is when you begin to see true teenage behavior. The other student’s treatment of Stargirl is quite brutal. Leo loves Stargirl, but he wants her to be “normal.” Stargirl is being shunned by the school and as her boyfriend, so is Leo. Leo just can’t cope.
Stargirl loves Leo, so she tries to be what he wants. This attempt is doomed from the beginning. It does not matter if she follows the “norms” if the other kids won’t accept her. The reader can almost physically feel the sadness and disappointment Stargirl feels when her attempts to be normal do not change the way the others feel. She’s convinced the other kids will come around. It’s almost a physical relief when she decides to be true to herself and go back to being Stargirl.
Spinelli ends the story with what could be seen as a triumph for Stargirl and a great regret for Leo. No, I’m not going to tell you – you’ve got to read it for yourself. Those who have enjoyed Spinelli’s other works, particularly, Maniac Magee, will enjoy this book as well. He’s a master storyteller.

I listened to this book on audio (get used to it – I listen to a lot on audio). The reader was John Ritter, one of my favorite actors. In the beginning I found his voice distracting because I was getting sentimental about the loss of his great talent a few years ago. But somewhere along the way, Ritter’s ability to become the character of Leo and Spinelli’s wonderful story took over and I was able to finish the book easily.

What are you reading?


Melissa said...

Great synopsis Beverly! I loved this book when I read it and you've encouraged me to pick it up again for round 2. Thanks!

20 Something Chick said...

I also listened to this book on audio and I though John Ritter did a great job. His voice was distracting to me as well at first, but I love this book. :)