Warning: this book review will contain spoilers. I will not try to hide them. The book has been out since 2000, so I don’t think I’ll get too much flack for it… I am not writing the review because anyone is sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to read a review of this book before they decided whether or not to pick it up. Also, Jerri Spinelli is a well-known and well-respected writer already, and nothing I write here is likely to sway anyone’s opinion of him as a writer (spoiler: I think he’s great). That said, I hope to keep my review vague enough that anyone who decides to pick up this book and read it will still be able to experience the same ups and downs, and sense of wonder that I felt when I read it.
I am writing this review– and more to follow– more for my own benefit. I’ve read many many books as an avid reader, but since getting deeper into the craft of writing, I’ve found that some of my perspectives as I read have changed. I find myself looking at the books and stories I read with a different mindset– much like a sculptor might look an another sculptor’s work and see not only the finished product, but also the work that went into it. My hope is that by reading works by other authors with this new author mindset, it will help me to improve my self-critiquing skills when it comes to my own work.
I picked up this book in a box of free books. I was immediately intrigued by the cover, as the “title” merely contained a pictograph:
Probably only an already-well-known author like Spinelli could get away with this, but I could be wrong. In any case, it drew me in. While we’re judging a book by its cover, however, I will say that I am unclear as to whom the publisher was trying to market this book to. Based on the cover, I’d definitely say girls; but the point-of-view character was male, and after reading the book I think young men ought to read this book, too, and I am afraid many would not simply on the basis of the cover being so “girly-looking.” This opinion is likely colored by the fact that I have a 13-year-old son who is currently in the phase of thinking that any book featuring a female main character is not going to be of interest to him. But I haven’t tried encouraging him to read this particular book yet, so maybe I’ll have to do that, and then come back here and let you know what happened.
One thing I have become more aware of as a writer is how writers begin their books. This story begins with a sweet two-page introduction, in which the main character, Leo, relates the story of this “porcupine necktie” which his uncle used to wear. Leo loved the tie, and when he moved to a new home in Mesa, Arizona, his uncle gifted him the tie. Leo decided to start a collection, but as it turned out porcupine neckties were difficult to come by (who woulda thunk?). But on his fourteenth birthday, his mom called into the newspaper to put out a blurb about Leo. One of the things she shared with the paper was that Leo collected porcupine neckties. Several days later a box showed up on Leo’s doorstep, and inside he found a porcupine necktie. The ties are not brought up again until the end of the book, but when they are, it’s a very satisfying resolution.
The next chapter cuts to Leo in high school a couple years later, and the buzz about the school is, “Did you see her?” “Her,” we soon find out, is a new girl at school, who goes by the name of Stargirl. From this point on, things get a little bizarre, but in a good way. Stargirl– as her name implies– is one of those ethereal characters who seems almost too good for this world, but at the same time also rather out of touch with people and how to connect with them. She doesn’t pick up on social cues, and– even though her intentions are good– sometimes she steps into the territory of making other people uncomfortable. Leo is smitten with her otherworldly ways, but at the same time struggles with his discomfort at being the center of attention once he and Stargirl begin dating, and finds himself wishing she could just be “normal” for a change.
Aside from the romantic sub-plot, the main plot– in my opinion– is really that of the school’s reaction to Stargirl, and how the student body shifts from being awed by Stargirl, to loving her and even idolizing her, then attempting to raze her, shunning her, and finally accepting her again. At the end of the book, her legacy lives on at the school, which has been changed for the better by her being a part of it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read any books based in a high school setting, and this novel took me back to my own awkward high school days. I found myself asking, how would I have reacted to such a character coming to my school? It was not a comfortable book to read, but rather one which will hopefully give the reader pause to examine their own life a little, and maybe dig inside to unearth their own “Stargirl” potential.
This book has a bittersweet ending, which I personally love in a book. It is a story which I believe will stay with me for a long, long time. I recommend everyone– teens and adults– read this book. And you can watch the new movie that just came out on Disney Plus, too– I thought it was a fairly decent representation of the book, though of course the book was better.
I have enjoyed sharing this review, and hope to do more very soon 🙂