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Saturday, February 28th, 2009
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by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl: A Modern Day Tall Tale

A review by Sarah Miller

For the nondescript town of Mica, Arizona, being different is not a way of life. When Stargirl arrives, walking around with a ukulele and a pet rat named Cinnamon, she is the definition of different.

She laughed when there was no joke. She danced when there was no music. She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow.

Her mold did not fit that of the boring Mica Area High School (MAHS), which had never seen somebody boldly walk through the lunchroom and sing "Happy Birthday" to that day's recipient. Everybody thought she was a hoax, a scam, a way for the administration to raise school spirit. Everybody but Leo Borlock, who found her charming, intriguing, and beautiful; so when his best friend, Kevin, insists they bring Stargirl on their in-school interview show, Hot Seat, Leo is faced with the growing feelings he's kept hidden.

This bittersweetness sets the tone for the engaging novel Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Newbery Honor Medalist for Maniac Magee. Magee is the story of a boy who's caught in society's racial boundaries and of his engagement with crossing those boundaries. Stargirl, also a socially responsive story, solidifies Spinelli's ability to view the world through the lens of a child and weave his observations into a profoundly enriching and thought-provoking novel.

It's no easy feat that Spinelli can create a larger-than-life, yet relatable character. Stargirl is written so realistically that it's not easy to describe her personality completely; it's through the narrative of Leo Borlock that the reader begins to understand Stargirl's uniqueness. Leo describes the school's reaction to the girl who asks questions about trolls in U.S. History class, says hello to strangers (whose names she knows) in the hallway, and dances outside in the rain instead of being in class. Through his lens, we connect to Stargirl, even feel proud of her seemingly ignorant antiestablishment motivations. But, like the students of MAHS, we also wonder if she's true and balk at her embarrassing antics and individuality.

Simultaneously, we follow Leo's fears that Stargirl will change, as it is "unthinkable she could survive (at least unchanged) among us." As the students attempt to define Stargirl, Leo recognizes their transformation in defining themselves, even if subconciously. "The pronoun 'we' itself seemed to crack and drift apart in pieces."

The supporting characters are portrayed with such realism we feel drawn to their feelings, their hopes, and their rejection of the unfamiliar. We try to define Stargirl just as they do, wondering if she could possibly be real. Jerry Spinelli answers this with, "Stargirl is as real as hope, as real as possibility, as real as the best in human nature." This idealistic approach to our desire to tidily place Stargirl in definitive terms, forces us to recognize our own stereotypes while following the novel's story.

Stargirl creates this conversation, placing it as a "Reader's Circle" choice. Although labeled as a young adult novel, Stargirl is engaging for many age groups, including the not so young adults. Spinelli's themes of conformity, change, and inspiration and his imperfect characters are things we can connect with throughout our own lives, making Stargirl a must read for all.

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