StargirlMy son is reading Stargirl with his class in school, so I figured I’d move it up my To Read list since I’ve been meaning to read it for about a year now!

The story is told from the point of view of Leo, a junior in high school in Mica, Arizona. He, like most of the residents of this relatively young town, started elsewhere before moving to Mica. Yet, despite their many backgrounds, the kids at the high school are all more or less the same, just variations on a theme.

And then one day Stargirl shows up. She wears costumes to school (her mother is a costume designer) and she brings her pet rat in her huge canvas bag with the sunflower painted on it. She plays the ukulele at lunch, sings “Happy Birthday” to her classmates, and puts a tablecloth and flower on her desk in every single class. She is totally and utterly different from everyone else at the school.

The story is told retrospectively—Leo is obviously an adult, looking back at his junior year when Stargirl rocked his world. This perspective lets him bring a reflective and philosophical bent to it that might not be there otherwise. His story brings up themes of fitting in, being yourself, the fickleness of popularity, and having the courage to do what you think you should.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


Stargirl goes through several phases of popularity—at first she’s an outcast, then she’s a celebrity, then outcast again, before one last burst of popularity that leaves a lasting impact on the school, even years later. This lets the reader reflect on how fleeting and fickle the opinions of “they” can be—what they think is cool, is acceptable, is worth imitating, is worth shunning people who used to be accepted. Leo is caught up in this as well, because when he’s dating Stargirl his own popularity takes a huge hit. He realizes this price is too high for him to pay right now.

Because she loves Leo and he wants her to be more “normal” so hopefully his classmates will again acknowledge his existence, Stargirl makes a strong attempt at trying to be normal. It’s ill-fated—even though she’s good at it, it doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Her last stint with popularity comes when she totally embraces who she is, and then disappears before it can wear off again. She becomes the stuff of legend.


Hillari, the popular girl in high school, is actively antagonistic toward Stargirl. At one point, she holds the pet rat over the stairwell, threatening to drop it to its death. Stargirl lets all of this slide right off of her, but that doesn’t make Hillari’s behavior any better.

When Stargirl is out of favor, she and Leo are shunned—most of the students won’t even speak to them. It really wears Leo down.


Leo and Stargirl start dating. They’re physically affectionate, although that’s only mentioned in passing. There’s a hint of a passionate kiss. Leo is caught up in his first love and is oblivious to other things for a long time.


Stargirl seems to have tremendous courage, but on some level it’s like it’s not even a conscious choice for her. She’s unaware of what other people think of her until Leo starts to point it out. Her friend Dori sticks by Stargirl until Stargirl starts acting “normal” to please Leo. Dori thinks she’s not being true to herself. When Stargirl starts acting like herself again, Dori is right back in there with her. This contrasts with Leo, who pulls away from her. Looking back, he realizes he didn’t have the courage to stick by her, and that’s why he lost her. You can tell he still regrets that.


This is a good book for kids to read when they’re dealing with peer pressure. It suggests that being yourself is important and how you make an impact, while also noting that it can be painful and possibly not worth it. It’s a good book for reluctant readers because it has older protagonists and deals with issues they can identify with, but it’s a fairly short and easy read. It’s also good for precocious readers because peer pressure is all too easy to identify with, even in grade school. It lends itself well to discussion.

My son is enjoying it so far. He doesn’t seem to have strong feelings one way or the other right now except that he wonders why every book has to include romance. He did sort of accept my argument that the romance in this story is crucial and central to the plot, but it still bugs him. I think my daughter will like it.

Kid update:

Both kids liked the novel, but they both disliked the epilogue ending. I’m thinking maybe you need to be an adult to appreciate that kind of retrospection.


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Published in 2000 by Random House
Has a sequel, Love, Stargirl
Read the family’s paperback copy

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