I want to first start this review by thanking my mother. As mentioned, all of the books featured in the summer reading series were books that I had as required reading when I was in grade school. As such I had read this book only once and shoved it in the back of my bookcase, thinking I’d never read it again. That said, imagine my surprise when I cracked open this book to find a number of sticky notes with my mother’s handwriting, helping me figure out what details, themes, and characters are important. That said, thanks, mom!
A huge part of growing up is about figuring out where you stand in life. Your values, the things you love, who you want to be. It’s difficult but do-able as evidenced by those like myself who have survived middle school, high school, and even those tricky college-aged years. What makes things even more difficult is that everyone around you is simultaneously trying to figure out the same things while trying to adhere to what they understand to be normal.
Long story short: Growing up and being yourself is hard and Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl gives us a fantastic insight into that. While it is a story of a girl, it is told in the point of view of a young man named Leo Borlock. His world is shaken up when the eponymous and previously homeschooled Stargirl arrives at Mica Area High School. While there, she turns heads and raises eyebrows for wearing the clothes she wants, saying hello to people and singing happy birthday. Admittedly it is a little strange that she does insist on bringing her pet rat to school and follows strangers around (this is less than charming, to say the least, and absolutely creepy to say the most).
Despite all her eccentricities, Leo enjoys them… to a point. Throughout the novel, it is very clear that Stargirl is completely comfortable with herself with the exception of Leo. He is her Achilles heel. Somehow, and in some way, Stargirl has fallen in love with Leo and for a while, she sacrifices her happiness for his. When she realizes it doesn’t work, when she realizes that being the MAHS definition of normal doesn’t win the admiration of her cohorts, she chooses to love herself even more. This is a difficult task, even for people who are years her senior.
I can only imagine what this book would have been like if it featured characters of color, and/or characters who are disabled, and/or characters who are part of the LGBT+ community. Members of these communities are still seen to this day as an anomaly in literature, film, and TV. They’re often met with complaints of “why does X need to be Y”. Just imagine, if you would be so kind, an East-Asian or Southeast Asian Stargirl who is beautiful and full of laughter and love for herself. Imagine a dark-skinned Black Stargirl who has natural hair and changes her hairstyle from week to week and wears bright colors. And honestly don’t even get me started about a Stargirl who is a lesbian or bi or trans.
Stargirl is really a fantastic book. It teaches readers, young and old that the best way to be happy is to be yourself. Cheesy, but true. It would just be nice if the wonderfully, happily weird featured more than quirky, cis, straight white girls. You all know the rules here: Great Book – Literally any hit of diversity = 5.
What I’m interested in hearing about is what ways having a different Stargirl would have helped you while growing up. I can only really talk about how amazing a Black Stargirl can be but I really want to know about others so let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading and until next time,