|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Having been a fan of Jerry Spinelli for years, I had high hopes for his novel, Stargirl. Unfortunately, my hopes went unanswered. That’s not to say I disliked the entire work, on the contrary, I enjoyed most of the book, especially Stargirl herself. What let me down the most was the message which permeates the work, but more on that later. As I mentioned, Stargirl, the story’s heroine, not only made the book for me, but being such a breath of fresh air, the free-spirited Stargirl turned me on my head, just as she did her entire high school. To say she is full of surprises, or unexpected insights is an understatement. One never knows from one page to the next, just what Stargirl may say, or think, or to many characters chagrin, what she may do.
Where else would you find a character who sends anonymous birthday cards to everyone in town? Or who serenades her classmates with the Happy Birthday song on her ukulele? Or who finds time to erase her senses, to hear the universe speak, and the stars to whisper. Unusual especially for a young adult, and therein lies the books plot. Adolescents don’t like to stand out from each other, and to have others stand out, like Stargirl, makes them uncomfortable, and threatened. Spinelli does a wonderful job of creating a character, who to the reader outside of the book, is someone we truly wish we were more like, but to the characters within its pages, is someone to be ridiculed, belittled, and even punished, simply for being herself. The books narrator, who initially falls under Stargirl’s spell, seems very static, unworthy of her attentions. Told from Leo’s point of view, I found myself disliking him more and more as the book went on. Instead of finding him endearing and multi-dimensional l, I found him flat and annoying. In a way, he reminds me of a high school version of Ross from the Friend’s TV show.
As I mentioned earlier, it was the perceived message of the book which I dislike. Instead of being the catalyst for change, the heroine conforms to expected norms, and the books suffers. Stargirl, once a girl who knew her mind, and cared little for what others thought, conforms to the norms established by those around her, becoming not who is meant to be, but what others expect her to be. Wait a minute….isn’t this what happens to most of us? Don’t most of us conform to the pressures of the life we lead? Don’t most of us forsake our true selves in order to fit in and belong? Hmmm, I wonder if that isn’t the message Spinelli is giving us after all. Perhaps, just perhaps, the message is that we don’t have to conform to others expectations. After all, Stargirl did show up to the ball on a bicycle accompanied by her pet rat, and later just disappeared, leaving folks like Leo reminiscing about Stargirl, and what she brought to their lives, decades later.
Seriously though, growing up I had a friend who shared many qualities of Stargirl, although being a girl was not one of them. As youngsters growing up in Texas, I found his unconventional outlook on life to be exciting and appealing. As we moved into our teens however, I found myself hiding behind the expectations of others, and we drifted apart. It wasn’t until years later, just like Leo, that I realized what an impact our friendship had on me, how ashamed I was of my behavior, and how I had come to envy him. That, after all, is the true intention of the book. I hope young readers can glean this from its pages, but I worry that only with time and age does this become apparent. As an aside, my friend pursued his dream and is now a Broadway producer. We remain in contact, and I think I might just send him a copy of Stargirl. I’m sure the message wouldn’t be lost on him.
Spinelli has created an understated masterpiece. Without proselytizing, pointing fingers, or condescending, Stargirl packs quite a punch. We are torn between wanting to be like Stargirl, wanting her to conform so her life is easier, and wanting her to stay true to her very nature, for herself and ourselves as well. Young readers need to hear Spinelli’s message. Adults need to hear Spinelli’s message. I know I sure did! Pick up a copy and I’m sure you will, too!
Citation: Spinelli, J. (2000). Stargirl. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.