While I was working myself out of the trenches of reading Into Thin Air and other assorted serious texts I decided to reach for a book from my TBR shelf. This book, bright blue, small, and recalling to mind the dear friend who gave it to me saying, “This is a wonderfully optimistic book. Read it when you need a lift.” And so I did. And so it was.
A Newberry winner this work of young adult fiction takes on similar themes that challenged books have. “Stargirl” is the main character and a love interest of the POV character, Leo. She’s an outsider from the beginning, a new kid who had lived in town most of her life – homeschooled and content with being different. There is nothing defiant in this character, no conscious decision to be different for the sake of uniqueness, just a steady and confident ownership of self. Her name is something she chose, the clothes she wears are older, she decorates the desk she inhabits in each classroom with a cloth, a bud vase, and a small flower. A eukelale is always with her so she can serenade students on their birthdays in the cafeteria during lunch time while her pet rat remains close.
Her caught-in-headlights eyes gave her a look of perpetual astonishment, so that we found ourselves turning and looking back over our shoulders, wondering what we were missing.
She laughed when there was no joke. She danced when there was no music.
She had no friends, yet she was the friendliest person in school.
In her answers in class, she often spoke of sea horses and stars, but she did not know what a football was.
She said there was no television in her house.
She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.
Leo is rather ordinary. He doesn’t want to stand out and wants to continue running his popular student television show from the booth he sits in. Then he ends up dating a person who cheers for every team, not just her school’s, someone who was invited on to the cheerleading squad and takes note of every event in the community section of the local paper. Stargirl loves him. And, as terrified as he is of how reviled she becomes in the school, he finds himself loving her as well.
When the turn of the tides occurs, however, she becomes shunned. No one in the school will speak or look at her (except for one true friend) and when they start doing it to Leo he asks her to change. To try and be like everyone else.
The story, of course, does not end there. Spinelli brilliantly leads us around from Leo’s point of view as he trips through the pitfalls of needing peer acceptance and the conjoining need to judge and cast aside those who are so different they make us call into question our precepts of “correct” and “right”. It is the tale of what happens when cateogries are acceptable, but when you remain outside an easily constructed box how it’s so easy for you to become hated. Cautionary this may be, however, the beauty and optimistic tone of it make this a must read.