Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Lots of teen romance novels are full of anger and angst, pain and passion.  Stargirl is remarkably void of all of that.  It's...sweet.  With a twinge of bitter tossed in to provide contrast and heighten the sweetness.

No sex, no swearing, no substance abuse, none of the hallmarks of a usual teen drama, and still Stargirl hits home.  Anyone who has lived through those tumultuous years will recognize the tension of not knowing exactly who you were or who you wanted to be, of desperately wanting to be as happy as you imagined everyone else was, of being so sure that if you could just find the right combination of clothes, disinterested facial expressions, and hobbies, you too could be "cool." You'll also recognize the hunger for the self-confidence to just be yourself, to develop your talents, to reach out to other people, to stop worrying about what others thought, and to pursue your interests without wondering if they were "cool" enough.

Like most high schools, Mica Area High School is "not a hotbed of nonconformity".  On the first day of eleventh grade, Stargirl appears.  Having been homeschooled her entire life to that point she doesn't fall neatly into any of the standard high school boxes.  She plays the ukulele, serenading students on their birthdays.  She decorates her desk in every class with a tablecloth, table skirt, and vase with a flower. She cheers non-stop for the sports teams - both of them - at every game. And she starts to single-handedly change the atmosphere of the school.
It was wonderful to see, wonderful to be in the middle of: we mud frogs awakening all around.  We were awash in tiny attentions.  Small gestures, words, empathies thought to be extinct came to life.  For years the strangers among us had passed sullenly in the hallways; now we looked, we nodded, we smiled.  If someone got an A, others celebrated too.  If someone sprained an ankle, others felt the pain. We discovered the color of each others' eyes.
It was a rebellion she led, a rebellion for rather than against. For ourselves.
Of course, the euphoria doesn't last and it's painful to see the student body turn against her. It makes me ashamed for any small part I played in my high school years in shunning or crushing another person's individuality.

But Stargirl is an optimistic story. Stargirl made a difference.  Leo, the boy who falls in love with her, describes it this way: "She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.  She taught me to revel. She taught me to wonder. She taught me to laugh...She saw things.  I had not known there was so much to see."

The moral of the story is that we can each make a difference.  We can each change the world and influence others' lives for the better, if we refuse to be cowed into submission by the host of "shoulds" and expectations laid on us by others who are just as insecure as we are.  That's the type of person I want to be.

by Jerry Spinelli
ISBN: 9780440416777
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperbackebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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