Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stargirl by Jerry Spinnelli

Published in 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf
Realistic Fiction

Conformity versus nonconformity. This is the major theme of Jerry Spinelli's book Stargirl. How far should a person go to "fit in" with the crowd? Should individuals sacrifice their deeply held beliefs and who they really are just to accepted by the group? And is it even possible to please everyone anyway? These questions and more are at the heart of Spinelli's novel. I absolutely loved this book and believe everyone could relate to it in one way or another because we all want to feel like we belong, especially when we are in high school. But is sacrificing who we really are just to be accepted by the crowd really worth the cost?

Spinelli's novel is told from the first-person point of view of Leo Borlock, an eleventh-grade student at Mica Area High School (MAHS) in Arizona. In the first chapter, "Porcupine Necktie," Leo describes his fascination with his Uncle Pete's necktie and how he becomes the owner of it. It's not like any other tie he has seen, and he is crazy about it. When he was twelve, his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, and his uncle gave him the tie as a going away present. Because he was so crazy about it, he begins to collect porcupine ties; however, two years later, he still has only one porcupine tie in his collection.

Leo's mother sends a regular feature article about Leo to be published in the local newspaper. The last line of the article reads: "As a hobby, Leo Borlock collects porcupine neckties. One day, he comes home to find a package on his front doorstep that has a tag that reads "Happy Birthday!" When he opens the gift-wrapped package with a yellow ribbon, he finds a porcupine necktie inside. Needless to say, the tie is rather unusual, and the author of the gift is anonymous.

This short introduction to the novel  foreshadows events to come. Leo remarks, "At the time I simply considered the episode a mystery. It did not occur to me that I was being watched. We were all being watched" (2). This is a great introduction to the book because Leo's fascination with his uncle's unusual tie becomes symbolic of his later fascination with Stargirl.

Leo meets Stargirl at school. Her real name is Susan Caraway, but she has a habit of changing her name whenever she feels she has outgrown her old one. Although she dresses flamboyantly, carries a large bag with a sunflower on it, and carries around a ukulele strapped to her back, her behavior seems even more bizarre. She sings "Happy Birthday" to students in the lunchroom everyday, even people she doesn't know; she puts a vase with a flower in it on her desk in every class, a ritual she repeats every day. She cheers for both teams at football and basketball games, attends strangers' funerals, and even carries a pet rat around on her shoulder. She seems to know details of the lives of everyone around her. How does she do it?

The students at MAHS don't know what to think about Stargirl. At first, students think she is crazy and avoid her, but when her crazy antics seems to help the school's basketball team develop a winning streak, students begin to experience incredible school spirit. Hillari Kimble become jealous of Stargirl and tries to turn everyone against her. Dori Dilson is the only friend who stands by her; meanwhile, Leo is developing a crush on Stargirl and can't seem to get her out of his mind.

Although the novel seems realistic on one level, as far as student behavior goes, I couldn't help but think as I read this book that this was not going to turn out well in the end. Stargirl is likable, funny, interesting, and brave; she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her. These are all qualities to be admired, but I kept asking myself, what would happen if someone actually behaved this way in school? I had to keep reading just to find out what was going to happen!

This book is well-written and easy to read.  It's the kind of book you can't put down once you turn the first page. I highly recommend Stargirl for both teenagers and adults! I can't wait to read more of Spinelli's books.

Jerry Spinelli's Official Website
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