Twelve-year-old me loved the idea of going against the crowd and being my own person. While everyone in school was wearing Phat Pharm sneakers, I opted for the classic black-and-white chucks. And while everyone was listening to the latest “Now That’s What I Call Music” mix, I was walking home listening to my mom’s bootleg Beatles CD. I didn’t do it for the sake of being different; I did it because it’s what I liked and what I connected to. I didn’t always have the confidence to settle into my interests, however.
At the start of middle school, depression hit me like a stack of books. I wasn’t sure where I fit in at school, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to be someone everyone expected me to be. So when I read “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli in the seventh grade, I stopped caring about fitting in and, little by little, starting becoming comfortable with myself.
I recently found a copy of the book at my new favorite bookstore in Oak Park, The Book Table. I had instant nostalgia when I saw the blue cover. I bought it and read it on the bus ride home.
The book is told from the perspective of Leo, who ends up falling for the new girl at school, Stargirl. Stargirl plays the ukulele, dresses in long flowy skirts and brings her pet rat to school. She’s also fond of what we know as random acts of kindness. Stargirl sends people cards for the most minute things going on in that persons life, and she drops change on the floor for people to find.
At first, Stargirl is the most popular girl in school, but eventually her nonconformity is too much for the rest of the school to handle. Leo is fascinated by her throughout the book, and they end up as boyfriend and girlfriend. But the time comes when he has to choose between being devoted to the outcasted Stargirl and the rest of the student body. I won’t give anything away here. Check it our for yourself!
Even though Leo is the one narrating the book, it’s interesting to see his perspective on the struggle he faces between wanting to fit in and wanting to be happily in love with Stargirl. The neighborhood’s aging former teacher, Archie, helps Leo to consider the outcome of his choice, without the didactic lectures. As I reread the book, I realized that having an adult character weigh in on Leo’s predicament shows how the issue of wanting to fit in is so universal. It isn’t just something that this teen way worried about; Archie sees how different Stargirl is, and how people are not always ready for someone like here. She is rare.
Can you guess how many stars this book gets? Yes, five out of five stars for “Stargirl.”