May 20, 2004

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Spinelli is a well-known children's author. I've seen his books on lists for kids put out by the library and by other various organizations in the know and I've heard from my kid's teachers recommendations for a couple of his books. My daughter read this one and handed it to me with an admonition to "read it, Mom, it's, like, really good." Anytime a kid says that to you, it behooves you to, like, pay attention. The librarian may make all the lists she can handle and teachers can recommend til they're blue in the face, but if a kid doesn’t read books, it's an academic exercise.

So I picked it up and read it. The narrator of the story is Leo Borlock. Leo is a bit of a geek. He produces a local cable show about high school students called "Hot Seat." He fits in with the kids at school but isn't in the "popular" group. He has figured out how to get along and not stick out. He lives in an Arizona town dominated by a software company where everyone's Dad works. And he collects porcupine neckties.

For his fourteenth birthday, his Mom calls some info into the paper about him for their local birthday column, noting that he collects porcupine neckties. And when he comes home from school, there is one waiting for him. No name, no card, just a note saying "Happy Birthday." And no one he knows will take the credit for giving it to him.

At the beginning of his junior year in high school, there is a new girl in school. She calls herself Stargirl. She says hello to everyone. She plays the ukulele at school. She has a pet rat she brings to school. She dresses oddly in prairie dresses or costumes. She knows everyone's birthday and sings to them The Song in the cafeteria at lunch. She is totally oblivious to the social hierarchy and the complex culture of high school. She has been homeschooled up to this point. She is what we call in our house A Free Spirit. Everyone is amazed by her. Leo is fascinated.

Initially she enchants the school. Kids vie for her attention. She is popular with everyone. But then she starts making mistakes. You can't be a free spirit unwilling to conform and fit in in high school. This is the story of what happened to her that year, of how she tried to compromise and how the kids at school handled it. In some ways it's a celebration of Stargirl's unwillingness to lose her essential self to the herd mentality; in others is a grim tale of what kids do to those that don't comply with the social standards. And it's the story of Leo's dilemma of loving Stargirl and being unwilling to stand up for her when the going gets tough.

I am glad my daughter gave it to me to read. She is a Free Spirit. I learned a little about her from reading about Stargirl. She's right. It is, like really a good book.

Posted by Deb English at May 20, 2004 08:36 PM