Stargirl Summary

Jerry Spinelli


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Stargirl Summary

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Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, published in 2000, is a young adult novel dealing with the challenges of nonconformity and the difficulties of high school. It was well received by parents and critics who praised the character Stargirl and the novel’s overall message.

The novel begins by introducing Leo, a 12-year-old boy who has moved from his home state of Pennsylvania to Arizona. His Uncle Pete gives him a porcupine necktie as a going away present, which sparks a collection. When the collection is featured in a local newspaper, and Leo receives another porcupine tie anonymously, the real story begins.

Four years later, a new classmate arrives at Leo’s school, Stargirl Caraway. She is a strange girl who sings happy birthday to classmates with her ukelele, wears kimonos and pioneer clothing to school, and cheers for both teams during sporting events. The student body is not sure what to make of her and the most popular student, Hillari Kimble, decides she is a fake. When it is Hillari’s birthday, she forbids Stargirl to sing happy birthday to her; Stargirl uses this as a chance to sing a song to Leo, telling him she thinks he’s cute. He is so intrigued he follows her secretly and observes her behavior. Stargirl eventually becomes a cheerleader and gains some measure of popularity in the high school. Through her antics on the team, sporting events are better attended, and the student body seems to appreciate this new level of creativity.

Her popularity does not last long, however. The student body grows tired of her antics, and they begin to resent her. This culminates in her appearance in a school-run television show. It’s jury style, and the students take this opportunity to question her and question her behavior until it’s nothing but scrutiny. It gets so bad that a teacher cuts the show short, and the episode never airs. Although Stargirl seems unfazed by the criticism, Leo has mixed feelings.

Stargirl’s only friends are Leo, her best friend, Dori, and to some extent Leo’s friend, Kevin. She and Leo begin a tentative romance, and he persuades her to give up some of the more quirky parts of her personality. She even reverts to using her real name, Susan. Stargirl begins to try to get her popularity back, striving to win the public speaking competition. When this doesn’t help, she realizes that her efforts to gain popularity have only betrayed who she is. She returns to her former self, and she attends the school dance. Her energy there is infectious, and the student body responds positively. Hillari is the only holdout, and when Stargirl manages to get the student body to do the Bunny Hop with her, Hillari slaps her saying that she ruins everything. Stargirl returns the slap with a kiss on the cheek. After that night, no one sees Stargirl again. Leo hears that she and her family have moved away.

The end of the novel takes place fifteen years later with Leo remembering the change Stargirl made on his high school. He wonders what happened to her, and reveals that he received another porcupine necktie right before his latest birthday. We assume it is from her.

The book deals with the concept of identity. The students in the high school are in a formative part of their lives, wrestling with who they are and who they want to be. Leo identifies himself a lot by where he is from and where he lives now, but Stargirl refuses to abide by traditional labels. She is who she is, and that effect is both mesmerizing and disconcerting for the students at the high school. She shows us that we are in control of our identities. The students at the high school are merely responding to the environment around them without awareness of how they can control who they are. When Stargirl arrives, she is wholly herself despite the criticism of her classmates, and ultimately teaches us that we can be whom we want.

The book also teaches us a little about our place in society. High school is a smaller representation of what goes on in the real world, and it’s often a place where students feel pressure to conform and to fit in just as people do in the real world. Stargirl is an anomaly, and although the student body rejects her, she continues to love people and those around her. The pressure to fit in doesn’t seem to touch her, and this makes the book’s story one of hope for those who cannot seem to fit in.

Overall, the message of the book inspired quite a few Stargirl societies and communities among teenagers. It encourages us all to find out who we are in the grand scale of things and to see each other in the best light we can. Leaving behind our judgments of others has a powerful effect on our immediate communities and ultimately, we can be who we truly are.