Stargirl ~ Jerry Spinelli
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
We are taught from an early age to use our inner censor. That is, we are taught to hold back, to close up, to shun those things that different. We don’t question our routine and we certainly don’t think about breaking the mold. Every now and then, though, we wonder, or at least I do, what would happen if we just took off for the desert to watch the sunset, hugged a stranger who was clearly having a bad day or stood on the lunchroom table and sang at the top of our lungs.
We, of course, do not do this. Humans are inward beings, acting in accordance with the social constraints placed on us by our team mates, coworkers or fellow students, even ourselves. We are never too nice or too happy, never too outwardly emotive unless our sports team or politician is winning. We, by our nature of self preservation can not be kind to everyone because that does not further our sense of security in maintaining at least the second step above nothingness.
Jerry Spinelli captures these fears and dreams in Stargirl. His fictional Mica High School is in the middle of the Arizona desert and is about as full of life and color as its surroundings. No, this is not Stepford; no one is perfect, they are just all the same. They wander about from mediocre lunch conversation to average grades to a losing football team. They continue skimming the bottom until Stargirl appears.
Bright, eccentric, happy and adventurous, Stargirl takes the school from behind in a sneak attack. At first she is viewed as peripherally weird but is soon embraced as fun and exciting. She represents everything the students do not. She sings Happy Birthday to students she doesn’t know. She sends card to people she’s never met. She is inherently kind and thoughtful and full of exuberance. She is the Judeo-Christian “good” and the Buddhist path to enlightenment. She is the ephemeral moment in which we let go of our inhibitions, climb up on the picnic table and yell “I love you world and I’m not afraid to show it!”
Of course, there comes a moment when we realize that we have mounted said piece of furniture and look around. We realize that we are still within the confines of social mores and we clear our throat, apologize and scuttle down from the bench, running for cover. This is, inevitably what happens to Stargirl after her initial success has worn off.
Stargirl is a beautiful commentary on how we live according to ourselves and others. It is content-appropriate for middle schoolers but high schoolers and adults will undoubtedly embark on a deeper, more thought provoking journey.