I didn’t read Jerry Spinielli growing up, which I guess might seem odd because he was writing books for my age group. I read one of his middle grade books a few years ago, but this was the first one aimed at teens. I’d heard about it, and there’s a movie now, so I figured I would give it a shot.
I’m not sure when this book is supposed to take place. We know where, the fictional town of Mica, Arizona, which is a new town that came to be because of a business. But for the when, there can be some movement there. The book was published in 2000 or 2001, and it definitely doesn’t take place in the future. But how far in the past? Was it supposed to be current to the publishing date, or was it supposed to take place in the 1990’s, the 1980’s? We’re not really sure, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It’s a time before cell phones, that’s for certain.
Our narrator is Leo, a sixteen year old Junior in high school. He has a best friend Kevin, and is the director of the school interview show, The Hot Seat. He visits a popular eccentric retired professor to learn about life and to get advice. And that’s a good portion of who he is before the start of the story. Just a normal kid. And then she comes to school.
She is Stargirl. She is different than anyone in the town of Mica has ever seen before. She doesn’t wear what everyone else wears (she prefers long flowy skirts to jeans and sandals), she doesn’t wear makeup, she carries around a rat and a ukulele. For a while, she is seen as an oddity. Then, the ideal. And finally the enemy. She never changes who she is for these changes to happen, it’s people’s perceptions of her that change. Teenagers are a fickle, changeable lot who easily fall into herd mentality.
There have been debates on whether Stargirl is supposed to be on the autism spectrum, but I don’t think she is. I mean, she’s neuroatypical for sure. She sees things in a different way, and certainly sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She sees the good in people and notices the little things, and cruelty seems to baffle her. She is innocent.
I also wonder how the events of the book would have changed if it were to take place today. The element of social media would be huge, of course, but I feel like individuality is praised more than conformity now. Seeing a ukulele in a high school hallway is not an unheard of event. You want to wear long peasant skirts every day? You do you. Maybe I’m just lucky in that the classrooms I often find myself in are fairly void of bullying for being different. Sure, when eccentric behavior first shows itself it will be looked at and talked about, but eventually it’s accepted as normal for that person and everyone moves on.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Old Series”)
Jerry Spinelli never really intended to write a sequel to Stargirl. He usually doesn’t write sequels as a rule. But seven years after he wrote the first, he started a fun little project that turned into a full-blown book. And it clears some things up for me from the first one.
Stargirl doesn’t appear to be on the autism spectrum, at least in this book. The whole thing is from her perspective, so we see what’s going on in her head. The book is a very long letter (more like a diary sometimes) that Stargirl is writing to Leo. It takes place over a full year. We see some of her thought process, and her actions make perfect sense to her. She’s a bit quirky, but otherwise a normal good kid. Sometimes homeschooled kids are like that. She’s also learned from her experience in public school.
And then we have the character of Dootsie. I do not like the character of Dootsie. She is a child that Stargirl encounters and befriends. First of all, a six-year-old is not the best best-friend for a sixteen-year-old. You are an unpaid babysitter. (Stargirl gets paid sometimes, I think.) Also, while some may think Dootsie is cute, I think she’s a spoiled brat who no one is disciplining. Yes, she’s only six, and she constantly tries to be the center of attention. But if she sees something and wants it, she will demand it, and no one seems to be able to say no to her. The worst is April 1st, where she does something bad. At that point, Stargirl should have reprimanded her and taken her directly home, not given in to the rest of her demands. If the child screams and fights you on the way home, so be it. Dootsie never has consequences for her actions, and appears to have no boundaries. And I can see how Stargirl would not really know what to do in that situation, being as soft-hearted as she is, but giving in to a spoiled child is a disservice to the child. I suppose it could be a talking point in a book discussion, on how different people would handle it, as with other points in the book. But that was the point when I was done with Dootsie.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Free” because they were both checked out from my library!)