26 February 2008

12. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Now, you may think I am going a little soft in the mind, but I loved this book. It's another selection from my prime motivator this year, that YA Lit class. When I taught middle school many of my students were obsessed with this book. I never got around to reading it, and would probably have forgotten about it altogether if not for this class.

This book is narrated by Leo, a HS senior in Arizona who falls in love with Stargirl. She is new to the school after being home-schooled her whole life. And she doesn't exactly fit in: she plays her ukulele in the cafeteria; she has a pet rat; she dresses completely crazy (her mom is a set designer, or wardrobe or something); and she sings happy birthday to kids, drops candy on their desks, and commits all kinds of random acts of super kindness.

And I think I have Post-Terabithia-Stress Disorder. The entire time I was reading I was afraid to turn the page for fear that some natural or unnatural calamity was about to overtake the high school and wipe out our dear Stargirl.

I really think Spinelli captured the voice of the teenage mob: their distance in the beginning wrought by misunderstanding; their embrace of the leadership demonstrated by our little bodhisattva Stargirl listening to her inner voice (her confidence in her rightness, her confidence in her kindness); and then their grudge-holding punishment for her going too far.

I think the ultimate lessons (to not judge so quickly, to not reject outright, and, since Leo is our narrator, to embrace the unexpected gifts) are very important for students to read about and discuss. The regret Leo feels after she leaves is palpable, and I think would hit a teen reader even harder than it hit me.

So much of high school literature is about characters listening to the inner voice, their true Self, that I think this book would be an excellent primer. Cuckoo's Nest, Catch 22, and Walden come to mind most immediately.

And perhaps I am being a little too hopeful, but perhaps if the book is read, say, as the second book of the year, or early enough, that it may be possible for teachers and students to start creating a safe space for kids to be themselves. A little nudge toward being more accepting of others. And resisting conformity. And Sameness.

Now I have to get back to reading everyone's outrage at that damnable Nader! Ahem.


Olman Feelyus said...

Nice post!

Heather S said...

Hi there,

Just stumbled across your blog post about Stargirl...my 8th graders will begin reading this book next week. I love EVERYTHING about this book, and love it more every time I read it with a new group of kids. Viva la Stargirl!