So, every once and a while I pick up a book I'm not supposed to read. The other night I was having to sit in a hallway for a couple hours so I could keep a close eye on some rather distraught teenage girls and I picked up this book sitting on the table next to me and started reading it. I read it only because it was there, but I found myself falling into it and desperately turning the pages as I sought to follow the adventures of Stargirl and Leo, the boy who loved her.
While most of the reviews and information on the book cover itself told me this would be a "true celebration of nonconformity," I found something else in the book. Stargirl was the personification of what I consider to be the ideal human being. Where I expected to find a teenaged girl acting weird for the sake of acting weird, I found something far more inspirational.
I don't know if Stargirl author Jerry Spinelli was intending to write the message I received. I don't know if he believes in the book's promotional tags as a celebration of nonconformity and examination of the nature of popularity. Stargirl is not just weird. She's beautiful.
At first we are greeted by her strange mode of dress, which tends to vary depending on her mood. She plays a ukulele and carries a pet rat around with her wherever she goes. The makings of a general weirdo, right? Just as I expected. This is going to be one of those books where we're innundated with the far out strangeness of a character for the sake of some chuckles.
As the pages went on, the behavior of Stargirl took on deeper meaning. She sings "Happy Birthday" to people while playing her ukulele in the lunch room at school and she doesn't care whether they want to be sung to or not. She sends flowers to lonely people and makes greeting cards to send to people she sees as facing various milestones in their lives by reading bulletin boards and the back pages of newspapers. She shows up at funerals for people she doesn't know. She can't understand what is wrong with this behavior or why anyone would be upset by it.
The story is told from the point of view of Leo Borlock, a student at Mica High School where Stargirl has suddenly appeared after being homeschooled up to that point. She hasn't been exposed to the need for acceptance within the social strata of school, so she just goes on being who she is. Leo becomes fascinated with her and eventually falls in love with her, but he struggles with how she, and eventually they, are perceived by the student body at large. At first she is viewed as merely a weirdo, and then her behavior and actions lead to a burst of popularity that eventually ends in a "shunning" when her stint as a cheerleader finds her cheering for both the home team and the opponent and rushing to the side of the injured star of the opposition's basketball team.
You can't do that, Leo explains. She doesn't understand why. Doesn't everyone deserve to be cheered for and to be comforted in time of need?
Leo eventually finds himself in a place where he must decide who matters more to him, Stargirl or acceptance from his peers. The struggle will lead him to a place inside. To see where that struggle leads, you'll have to read the book. You can pretend it wasn't written for "young adults." Sometimes it doesn't matter.
Then, if so inclined, give it to a young person you love.