Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I first read this book in 2000 when it first came out and loved it, I didn't analyse it or think too hard about it...I just liked it. I always had a place in my heart for Stargirl...the girl who dared to be different! (I think I was a bit jealous.) This year the companion novel- Love, Stargirl was published and my interest in this novel was renewed, which led me to think it might be a good book for our blog. I reread the book this week and all the memories I had when I first read it came flooding back. Yes, I still loved it! Some might think it is a bit schmaltzy and her naivete annoying, but I just want every high school student who thinks about being different, is different or is trying to excerpt their individuality, to read it.

Literally speaking I like the way Jerry Spinelli tells the story in a type of flash back. It was very powerful to read the epilogue and realize that Leo is now an adult and has been retelling the story from this point of view. This was very thought provoking. Overall,I was very disappointed in Leo! Somehow I was hopeful he would redeem himself, stand up for her, and get her back. I was so sad when he chose conformity and acceptance over Stargirl! I somehow wanted him to rise above that.

Sadly, also, is the realization that high school is a time when kids feel it is so important to "fit in" and not stand out or be different. I think by reading this book it would give students a venue to discuss the issue of individuality versus conformity. However, one reviewer I read commented that he felt the story would have more credibility if Stargirl was less naive or as he said, "But to make it real, Stargirl needed to have at least one foot on the ground." I don't know if I agree with this. (Was this spoken like a true male??? I don't know!) What comes across loud and clear, at least to me, is how hard it is to chose between individuality and being accepted by one's peers. Look at what Leo gives up!

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the companion book- Love, Stargirl. I think I was hoping for more of a sequel. Sorry- for those of you looking for conclusions...Does Stargirl contact Leo? Does she go to a reunion? What does she do with her life? Sadly, this book doesn't wrap things up in a nice big bow-but it is worth the read.

I'm anxious to see what you all thought. Did the book stand the test of time? Is it a worthy read? Or am I just letting my insecure high school angst cloud my judgement?!


Dawn said...

Overall I liked the book. It took me a while to get into because I felt that I couldn’t connect with the characters. I felt that they were not developed as much as I would have liked, with the exception of Stargirl. For example, I found that I didn’t care what Leo, Kevin or Hillari thought about Stargirl because I didn’t know enough about them to care about their opinions. As the book progressed, I did want Leo to stick up for Stargirl and not go with the crowd. I was a bit disappointed that he went with the crowd; however, I believe in the end he regretted it, which was a lesson learned.

I do wonder if people, like Stargirl, exist. She was so positive all the time. I would have liked to see more up and down emotions from her because it would have made her that much more real to me. I have to admit that for a while I was questioning her mental stability. It is sad that even I can’t believe that someone could be so giving and positive all the time. For example, I liked the random acts of kindness idea presented in the book, but I felt that at some point Stargirl would have to do something for herself. The way it was presented was that the random acts of kindness made her happy, but I wondered if she was truly happy by just doing that.

I would recommend this book to students for various reasons. It was an easy and quick read about something that they are going through, high school relationships. I would hope students would get the right message out of the book vs. stereotype Stargirl and place her in whatever “group” she would fit into in our school. After reading the book, I would hope students would want to show that they are individuals that have so much to offer others.

Kim Seeley said...

Ok, you know me by now, not my kind of book. One of my students chose this for a silent reading project and the way she made it sound really good. I asked her if it was a really good book and she said it was so so. Stargirl annoyed me to no end and the way the kids treated her was awful. All I could picture is some hippie dancing around the school spreading flowers. The whole game show things was poorly portrayed. It was a very unrealistic book and I am just not a fan of books like this. I wanted to just finish the book so I could make Stargirl go away! ;) That's mean, but true. I am all about being your own person, but realistically, this just wouldn't happen. Not one of my favorites but I am glad I read it. I wanted to try it out after my student wrote her project. Onto the next book...

Cathy said...

I liked the book also. I especially liked the end when it tells how the school now has a club where you do one nce thing a week and at the games they cheer for the other team's first basket. I think that Leo's regret is also good for the readers to realize that choices have consequences.
The two themes of difference and young love are themes that will catch the reader's attention. The essential question was asked what do you want more Stargirl or acceptance?
I rhink Leo made a very good point about connections. I felt sorry for Stargirl because it appeared that she never made true or lasting connections with her peer group. Her favorite pass time was guessing what other people might be like. Did she know her young neighbor she was taking pictures of? Her goal to sell sandwiches off a cart to make people happy? She had such high expectatiions of the good in people. She also had no idea of why she was popular. Her first stint of popularity was because she had made a spectale of herself and got people to come to games to see what she would do next. The last time at the dance seemed a little farfetched but nice for a teen audience. It also showed that she cared for Leo by giving him the opportunity not to ask her. Of course we all wanted him to ask her but how do you live up to perfection?
Leo's happiness when Stargirl became Susan was totally understandable. It was not that the school accepted her but that she was trying to make connections and not just do whatever. ( How many schools would allow a rat as a pet in school?) Speacking of Cinnamin it was sad because it appeared that the rat was her only friend. Waas the author making a comment on home schooling?
You would have thought that the archaeologist would have tried to have Stargirl mix with his other students??
I felt that in the end she had chosen Leo because of his porcupine tie feeling that he might just be different enough to accept her. Although I am still not sure how she got everyone's birthdays. It just seemed that she was in away living life precariously.
Obviously, Stargirl was smart. Some people do not need many friends and I hope she is one of them. Unless she changed and became Susan again I felt she would never be accepted in society. On the other hand, given her pendance for doing good she could be used by society.
Cathy P

Rebecca Kennedy said...

I am not sure what I think about this book. At times I liked it more than others. But, overall I found it to be a little hard to get into. I like the idea of individuality and positivity in Stargirl, but I found her character to be a bit much most of the time.

I find it hard to believe that a person such as Stargirl really exists. I think that individuality on a smaller scale exists but her character was over done and I have to agree with Kim I just imagined a hippie girl dancing around the school.

One thing I really liked was the idea of having an awareness of others. I think it is getting less common for people to look outside themselves and those right around them to worry about others happiness.

I found the character of Leo to be frustrating as much as I was annoyed by Stargirl, I kept hoping she would find her niche and that Leo was going to be the one to help her find it. Although he ended up not standing by her in the end I think this is the most realistic outcome.

I think that some students would enjoy this book. It contains a good message about individuality and fitting in. It was a quick easy read which will appeal to more reluctant readers.

cvanslyk said...

I loved this book. Stargirl reminded me of a student I had several years ago. She was not as flamboyant as Stargirl, but shared some of her character traits. They were both selfless, altruistic and focused on making others happy or at least trying to do nice things for others. They were totally unaware or just totally disinterested in being accepted in any groups. It would have been interestinvg to know more about Stargirl's educational background. Being home schooled can make it difficult to fit in with certain peer groups and develope social skills. However, at first she seemed like a leftover hippie from the 1960s. As the story continued, it appeared to me that she was schooled in the 8 Beatitudes. (I teach these to my 4th grade religion class) She was totally living them as well. It is really sad that she was disliked and ostrasized because she was kind to others. This is a great book for discussion about character development. The question is about what is more important, being accepted by the group or being a friend to a sincerely kind and loving person who is not accepted by the group. Dori Dilson was brave enough to be herself. She put her friendship to Stargirl ahead of being accepted by the group. Leo was unable to do this and realized he was a coward. Hillary was so filled with hatred. When she slapped Stargirl, Stargirl responded by kissing Hillary. How many kids or adults for that matter would have responded that way? This again indicates to me that Stargirl lived the beatitudes. She did what she knew was the right thing to do. Where there was hatred, she showed love. She also made a difference in many lives. Leo never forgot her and The Sunflowers Club was formed. It was a nice ending. This book is used in the Read 180 Program. I will definitely encourage my students to read it this year.

Maria said...

I really enjoyed the book. As I read, I kept thinking of that saying that we fear what we do not understand. Stargirl was so out of the ordinary that the concept was almost difficult to grasp. I know I would have shied away as a teen; she would've been too bizarre to hang out with. At the same time, it is sad that such an optimistic, giving person is considered odd. Maybe this is a way for students (readers) to look at the direction in which society is heading. Maybe it can cause readers to look inward to find the part of us that has some of Stargirl's qualities. I read one of the comments that stated that the reader was disappointed in Leo for rejecting Stargirl's eccentricities, but, realistically, I was not surprised for a tenth grader to follow the norm instead of supporting the different. Leo himself stated that he resented having to choose showing that he can't be one of "them" and be connected to Stargirl. The message of conformity vs. individuality is obvious for young adult readers to pick up. Also, although Stargirl tried to be "normal" for Leo, she was no more accepted in changed form as she was in her individual form. In the end, though, she wins out over Hillari's popularity at the dance, showing the author's hope for individuality to win out over conformity.

I liked seeing how Leo was an adult reflecting back on his experience. It sounded as if he was still waiting to reconnect with Stargirl maybe at a point in his life where conformity is less important than happiness.

rebeccakryger said...

I liked Stargirl and think that younger high schoolers or even middle school readers would enjoy it. I liked Stargirl's fearless attitude toward being different, though it may have been a little over the top at times. Leo, too, struggled with her being different much the same way that I think a typical high schooler would.

Kathy, I'm not sure I agree that Leo chose conformity in the end. I think by him choosing not to go to the dance rather than bringing another girl showed his reluctance to conform. I think he was angry with the majority for not accepting Stargirl but not able to completely discount them and go with Stargirl either. I liked that he ended up sort of showing his own indepedence by not choosing either side to adhere to.

My favorite part of the novel was the moment in the enchanted place. Leo tryed so hard to let everything go and realized how difficult that actually is. This is something that our students could learn a lot from--they are constantly connected to everything, talking on cell phones, texting, on myspace, online, etc. Students could realize the importance of being in tune with themselves and disconnecting for a while.

I also wanted to comment on Stargirl being unrealistic. When Stargirl attempts to "conform" by changing her clothes and attitude, I think that shows how real she was. She tried to be like everyone else to please Leo--what is more realistic that people trying to please others at their own expense?? I'm glad Stargirl went back to herself and didn't sacrifice her own identity.

My only negative comment with this book, if you could call it that, is I think it started out a bit slow. It took me a while to really get into it, and I also couldn't be sure whether the narrator was a boy or girl until about 35-40 pages in (even when his friend calls him "Leo" I questioned it because I thought maybe "Leo" was a nickname like the astrological sign or something). Maybe that is dense of me, but I wish that had been clearer sooner in the novel.

I am going to read the sequel novel too (thanks Kathy) and I'll let you know what I think! Overall, I would definitely recommend this to my young high school students.

rebeccakryger said...

Maria, I think the "we fear what we do not understand" is a perfect way to describe the attitude toward Stargirl. If this were a book done in literature circles or in a class setting, that would be a great discussion starter. :)

Charlene, could you tell me about the 8 Beatitudes? I am not familiar with that...

Jen said...

I wonder if I am the last to respond! I really appreciate the philosophical message of the book and the metaphor that StarGirl uses during her speech. I don't know if I love the characters. It is because I don't love them that I struggle with the story. I like the message.

I notice that many of you asked if people like STAR GIRL actuallly exist. I wanted to know if people like Wayne Parr exist. He lacks depth. I think Leo is superficial, but what high school boy isn't?

A part I really liked (and I think Rebecca mentioned it) is the description of existing:
"It's in the morning, for most of us. It's that time, those few seconds when wer're coming out of sleep but we're not really awake yet..." I thought about this part for a long time. It seems to be a primitive reality for humans.

On some levels this book reminded me of Pay it Forward. There is some fun language that Spinelli uses that kids might enjoy. Things like, "She is bendable light. or She shone around every corner of my day."

Overall, I would recommend this to younger kids for one reason (easy read/ good story) I would love to discuss it philosophically with older kids.

cvanslyk said...

Rebecca, The Beatitudes can be found in the Bible in the Book of Matthew, Chapter 5:3-10. They were given to us by Jesus to share in his happiness and to help us live in hope and love. There are 8 Beatitudes and these are part of the 4th grade curriculum in our faith formation program at St.Judes Church. The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is in the spirit of the Beatitudes. The first lines are "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury pardon..." This is a beautiful prayer that some of you may be familiar with. I can send you the entire prayer and list of the Beatitudes if you are interested. As I stated previously, they relate very much to the way Stargirl lived.

chris klafehn said...

I hope people like Stargirl do exist. I felt the book was an easy read, which many kids would like. Stargirl in my opinion is confident with who she is, which scares people that are not as comfortable with who they are. Leo, Kevin and Hillari appeared to be more uncomfortable with who they. Dori however was a true friend, even when Stargirl made changes to fit in the crowd she knew Dori would be there for her. In the end, Dori was. While the story may be a little far fetched, it has a good message, be happy with who you are.