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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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.
I read this book about a year and a half ago. My English teacher assigned the novel as one of our novel studies. It was a fairly popular book in my English class and people enjoyed the book. I liked the book and recieved a copy of the book as a birthday present. I haven't read the book since.

Until this week, when I went searching through my bookshelf. I found Stargirl nestled in a corner. The paperback version is small and soft, and looks almost like what you expect a classic to look like.

One could probably consider Stargirl a classic. It has garnered plenty of fans, rumors of a movie, and a companion novel that, though it was released seven years later, hit the top of the bestseller charts instantly. Reading the novel, I could understand why people considered it a classic.

Stargirl focuses around Leo Borlock, a shy boy who prefers to stay within his school's conventions. At Mica High, everyone acts the same, they do the same things, and they fall into the same normal routines as the rest of their classmates. Until Stargirl arrives. Ukele-toting, long-dress wearing, eccentric and friendly Stargirl arrives. She shakes up their world and releases the tough hardness of the school. The students adore her, thankful for something new and original in the world. Until they suddenly turn on her for the same eccentricities they once adored about her. Leo, realizing that he is in love with her, forms a relationship with Stargirl. They foster a kind and caring relationship. But when their classmates ostracize Stargirl, Leo begs her to become normal.

This book, essentially, is a parable. It is a parable broadcasting noncomformity everywhere. It takes every chance to point out that noncomformity is wrong and horrible. It is a nicely written parable, but the constant message that NO! NONCOMFORMITY IS HORRIBLE! became annoying after a while. I liked the book enough to continue but it grew annoying after a while, since I wanted to read a story, not a book designed to teach me a lesson. Agents and editors always insist that you don't write books to simply teach a lesson or prove a point. Stargirl was essentially written to prove a point. That, I think, is the book's biggest downfall: it tries to prove a point and does not always succeed. Every scene, plot, and character, was designed to prove a point against noncomformity.

The plot, in an essence, is a bit predictable. I knew that Stargirl would change herself and then revert back to her "normal" self. But the author chose this for his nonconformity theme. Still, the plot was interesting and captivating enough that I would continue on. The characters were interesting and well developed, and Leo was a strong main character.

I'm not disagreeing with Spinelli's thoughts -- noncomformity is not cool -- and he raised some very interesting questions about noncomformity, how it affects people, a community, and the world. He wrote a good parable.

I think that I enjoyed the book a little less than I did in my first reading for English class, but I still enjoyed it. Stargirl certainly could be considered a contemporary classic. Stargirl was a strong book with some flaws.

Four stars.

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