“Stargirl” is a Young Adult novel by the writer Jerry Spinelli that was published in the year 2000. Spinelli was already a celebrated children’s author by the time the book was written and it met with critical success, being lauded for it’s message of non-conformity.
The novel revolves around a teenage boy named Leo Borlock, whose life is changed forever when a girl named Stargirl Caraway starts attending his high school. Stargirl is a free spirit and a quirky non-conformist who wears unconventional clothes and carries around a pet rat named Cinnamon. At first, the other students of the school aren’t sure what to make of Stargirl, but she quickly begins to grow on them and becomes the most popular girl in the school.
Leo begins to fall in love with Stargirl, and the two begin dating but when Stargirl makes an unforgivable social faux-pas at a basketball game, the whole school turns on her and Leo must decide if he is going to stand by the girl he loves or stay in favor of his peers by dumping her.
The novel was adapted into a play in 2015 and received positive reviews from local critics. In 2007, Spinelli wrote a sequel to “Stargirl” called “Love, Stargirl” which takes up after the first novel left off and tells a story from Stargirl’s perspective.
The story begins with a prolog where the narrator tells a short tale about a tie that his uncle used to have with a porcupine on it. When the narrator was twelve years old, his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona. As a going-away present, his uncle gave him the tie. The narrator’s family moved to a town called Mica, and on his birthday his mother wrote a blurb about him in the local paper about his love for porcupine neckties.
The narrator, Leo Borlock then found a strange package on his doorstep a few days later which turned out to be another porcupine necktie. There was no note with the package and no clue who sent it. Leo says that now that he is older, he realizes that he was being watched.
At the start of the first chapter, Leo is starting the eleventh grade of school. A new girl is also starting, and there is a stir in the school about her eccentricities. The new girl is named Stargirl Caraway, and she showed up to school for the first day wearing a vintage wedding gown and carrying a ukulele. Leo and his friend, Kevin run a local TV show for the school called ‘Hot Seat’ where they interview people of local interest. They decide that they have to get Stargirl on the show.
Chapter two begins with the perspective of a new character, Hillari Kimble. Hillari is a popular girl at the school. She spreads a rumor that Stargirl was planted by the administration to foster school spirit and the rumor spreads quickly. Leo thinks that the rumor is silly, but Kevin hopes that it is true so that he can get the scoop and expose her on their show. Stargirl continues to act oddly at school. The following day, she plays her ukelele for a boy and sings him “Happy Birthday.” The other students tease him after she leaves the room.
Hillari is enraged by the attention that Stargirl is getting, and Leo tells Kevin that if Stargirl is a real student, she won’t last long at Mica High. Stargirl wears stranger and stranger clothes to school, including a kimono and a flapper dress. She is very outgoing, saying hello to everyone she meets in the hall and answering questions in class with ease. She joins the cross-country running team one day but gets kicked out because she won’t follow the course. She begins competing in speech competitions and oratory clubs.
Leo narrates that everyone at school thinks that Stargirl is weird. He begins thinking of her a lot as the moonlight spills in through his window at night. Because of this introspection, Leo becomes unsure if they should have Stargirl on Hot Seat. Kevin and Leo disagree over this but Leo insists that he has a feeling that they should leave her alone.
Hillari continues to spread rumors about Stargirl and why she is so different, each rumor becoming more ridiculous than the last. Stargirl acts more oddly, she insists on spreading out a ruffled tablecloth over her desk before every class and topping it off with a vase with a single flower inside. She tells everyone that she has never heard of football and that she doesn’t have a TV in her house. She has a tendency to dance, laugh and sing at random moments. Other students begin begging Leo and Kevin to put Stargirl on Hot Seat, but Leo still refuses.
Leo follows Stargirl to school one day and finds that she walks all over town on her way, finally taking a letter from her pocket and putting it in a mailbox. When she moves away, he takes the letter out of the mailbox and finds that it is unaddressed and only reads, “Congratulations.” Later that day, Kevin calls Leo and tells him to rush over to the school’s football field. When Leo arrives, Stargirl is making a scene on the field, dancing with the band and stealing the football. The referee tries to remove her, but she manages to evade him long enough to get away. Everyone in the audience, including the parents, cheer for her.
The following Monday, the head of the cheer leading squad asks Stargirl to join the squad. Stargirl joins the squad, and most of the school decide that they like her and consider her a free spirit. However, no one wants to be close friends with her as she is still to different. Hillari’s birthday arrives, and she tells Stargirl not to sing to her in the cafeteria. Stargirl quietly says that she won’t, but during lunch, she approaches Hillari’s table and begins singing “Happy Birthday” with her ukelele. Although she says Hillari’s name at the end, she sings the song to Leo, thus keeping her promise. Leo becomes flustered from the direct attention from Stargirl. When Kevin asks Stargirl why she chose to sing to Leo, Stargirl replies that she thinks he’s cute.
Kevin tells Leo that he thinks things are starting to get interesting between Leo and Stargirl and that they should go visit someone named Archie. Archibald Hapwood Brubaker is a retired paleontologist that lives near the school. Students regularly go to his house to see his amazing fossil collection and learn about paleontology. Leo and Kevin visit him that day to talk about Stargirl. Archie, who is a lively old man, tells them that Stargirl has already visited his house. Leo says that she is different and like an alien but Archie contradicts him and says that Stargirl is more human than any of them. He says, “On the contrary, she is one of us. Most decidedly. She is more than we are us. She is, I think, who we are. Or were.”
Archie says that Stargirl’s mother started bringing her to see him about five years earlier. Leo and Kevin ask if she is putting on an act during school and Archie assures them that she isn’t. Archie says that in the years that he has known Stargirl, her name has changed from Pocket Mouse to Mudpie to Hullygully to Stargirl. She changes her name whenever she feels like it.
Leo and Kevin begin to wonder what her parents could be like to let her act this way and Archie says that they are perfectly normal people with normal jobs. Archie says that Stargirl used to be home schooled and that she is a “Rara avis” which is Latin for a “rare bird.” Stargirl continues to grow more popular at school. She excels on the cheerleading team because she cheers enthusiastically without a break even though the team is not very good. She is so entertaining on the field that everyone loves her, and the local newspaper calls her the best athlete on the field.
A lot of people in school have begun doing the same things Stargirl does, like carrying around a ukelele and putting tablecloths and flowers on their desks. Kevin thinks that the students have changed a lot because of Stargirl. He and Leo feel that the students seem to be happier as a whole. However, things begin to take a turn for the worse again when Stargirl’s oddness begins to seep out in the real world beyond the school. She attends the funeral of a students grandfather and sobs heavily. The girl’s family finds this mocking and throws her out. She also attends a hospital-homecoming of a little boy that she doesn’t know and buys him a new bike to replace the one that he crashed. However, Leo narrates, none of these small incidents compare to the incident that happened during basketball season.
During a basketball game, Stargirl alienates the entire school by cheering for the other team and cheering every time a basket is made, regardless of whether or not it’s for her team. The fans are so merciless against the other team that they start booing Stargirl, too. During a different game, when the Mica High team is winning, Stargirl leaves the game and goes outside, as she feels that her cheering when the other team is losing will just make it worse for them. The other cheerleaders are angered by this and decide to get revenge on her. They leave her stranded at the other school by asking her to go back into the gym to fetch something and telling the bus driver to drive off when she’s still inside.
The next day they tell her that it was an accident. The boys finally manage to get the courage to ask Stargirl to be on Hot Seat, and she agrees. Leo secretly wonders if she is only doing it for the fame and if that means that she isn’t all that different from them after all. During the show, the guest sits in one chair with flames painted on the legs, while they are interviewed by Kevin. Nearby, a “jury” of six students asks questions that are allowed to be embarrassing and investigatory but not mean-spirited or hateful.
Leo works in the sound room and directs the show. He worries that since Stargirl seems to be losing some of her popularity, having her on the show many turns ugly. This fear turns even worse when he sees that Hillari has somehow ended up on the jury. Stargirl brings her pat rat, Cinnamon onto the show and asks Kevin to hold it. After this, she begins pretending like the “Hot Seat” is actually on fire and shrieking. The rat jumps down and runs away, and Kevin and Stargirl laugh as they try to catch it. When they manage to get things under control again, the questions begin.
The jury asks Stargirl what her real name is, and she tells them that it is Susan but that she renamed herself because she didn’t feel like a Susan. She gives a list of other names that she has had over the years and says that she changes it whenever she feels that she has worn out the last one. Another juror her asks her why she cheers for the opposite team and Stargirl innocently says that she is a cheerleader and it’s her job to cheer.
This causes the juror to call her a “dumb cluck” and the tone of the questions begins to get meaner. Hillari gets the mic and uses her time to call Stargirl mean names and say that she must be from Mars. She accuses Stargirl of playacting to get attention and demands that she leave the school. The jurors begin asking meaner and meaner questions before a teacher steps in and tells them that the show is over.
The tape for the episode is destroyed, and it is never aired. Stargirl does not seem to be upset by the change of popularity and goes about her normal cheerleading duties. Stargirl begins trying to only cheer for the Mica team. Unfortunately, she does this during a game where the team is losing, and the crowd takes it badly. Someone in the audience throws a tomato at her, and everyone in the stands laughs. The following day, Leo finds a love note in his notebook from Stargirl. Stargirl seemed a little down and reserved that day. She approaches Leo to talk, but he panics and avoids her. That night he sits up late and thinks about Stargirl while reading her letter over and over.
The next Monday, Stargirl approaches Leo again and boldly asks for a thank you for the card. He thanks her and she walk away. Kevin teases Leo, saying that Stargirl has a crush on him. Leo acts like he’s oblivious to Kevin but secretly feels that he might have a crush on Stargirl, too. Rumors circulate in school that Stargirl was kicked off the cheerleading squad. Leo walks to Stargirl’s house and nervously paces outside while he thinks of what he wants to say to her. She comes outside, and he hides behind a car. Stargirl says that she knows he’s out there and asks him why he followed her around town the other day. They sit outside and talk for a while that evening.
This time, rumors start circulating that Leo and Stargirl are dating. Leo feels that he is in love with Stargirl now. After school the next day, they meet, and Stargirl brings him to a place in the desert where she goes to “do nothing.” She decides to teach him how to do nothing, or to meditate, getting him to quiet his mind so that he can hear the earth speaking to him. Leo struggles to do this, but after a while, he starts to feel a bit more peaceful. Leo and Stargirl walk home together holding hands.
Leo and Stargirl are so deeply smitten with each other that they don’t notice for several days that no one else in school is talking to them. When Leo notices, he asks Kevin who tells him that everyone in the school is giving him the silent treatment because they all hate Stargirl now. Everyone blames her for the basketball team doing badly. Leo feels terrible about this, but Stargirl doesn’t seem to notice. Leo goes to Archie for advice and Archie asks him if he values the opinions of the other students more than he values Stargirl. Leo continues to spend time with Stargirl who he feels gives him a different perspective on things. Stargirl not only observes the world, but she wonders about everything she sees and cares deeply for everyone, even strangers.
Stargirl reveals that she often delivers random presents to people and never signs the cards. When Leo asks why she doesn’t sign them she asks why she would. Leo realizes that Stargirl was the one that gave him the mysterious porcupine necktie and she admits that it was her. Leo goes over to Stargirl’s house to meet her parents and is surprised by how normal they are. Leo does discover some strange things in Stargirl’s room, like a bowl full of hair that she puts out for birds to make nests with and a small wheelbarrow full of stones that she adds to whenever she is happy. It currently has 17 stones in it, which is more than it has ever had.
After dinner, the two go out onto the porch to talk Leo accidentally insults Stargirl when he asks her if she is trying to be a saint. After apologizing, she forgives him, and they end up sharing their first kiss. Things are going well with Stargirl, but Leo is still upset that everyone in the school is shunning them. He still wonders if he should break up with her so that he can go back to normal in school.
One day he arrives at school to find a huge bed sheet over the blackboard with the words ‘Stargirl loves Leo’ printed on it in a heart. Leo is happy to hear that Stargirl loves him as much as he does her, but embarrassed that she has announced it to everyone this way. Stargirl finds him during lunch and asks what he thought of the sign. He merely shrugs. Stargirl tries pressing him for more and puts her pet rat on his shoulder. Leo sweeps the rat off his shoulder, and it falls to the ground.
The other students continue to mock Leo, and he begins to distance himself from Stargirl and give her the cold shoulder. Stargirl finally gets him to talk to her and asks him if they are breaking up. He says that he doesn’t want to break up but that something has to change as he can’t stand the rest of the school treating him this way. They get into an argument where he yells at her for not caring what anyone thinks and tells her why they are mad at her.
Stargirl gets upset, and Leo starts to feel bad for yelling at her. He insists that she has to care what people think because that’s what makes her truly connected to society. He tells her that no one in school likes her and then amends that to say that he likes her, but none of the other students do. The two hug and Leo decides that he is going to help her connect to the other students rather than break up with her.
Pretty soon, Stargirl shows up at school dressed in a normal outfit, without her ukelele or her pet rat. She tells Leo that her name is Susan now and Leo is elated that she has agreed to conform. Leo and Susan start going on normal dates to the movies and pizza places. When Kevin tells Susan that no one likes anchovies on their pizza, she starts pulling them off without thought. Susan still isn’t always sure how to ask, so she quizzes Leo whenever she is confused by what normal girls do. They invent a fictional girl called “Evelyn Everybody” so that Susan can ask “Is this what Evelyn would do?” when she is confused.
However, despite the changes, the rest of the school still doesn’t warm up to Susan. One night Leo goes over to her house to do homework and finds that there are only two pebbles left in her little wheelbarrow. Susan competes in a statewide high school oratory competition with Leo accompanying her and wins, awing the crowd with her speech. She gets massive applause and ends up being in the newspaper. She expects that when she gets back to Mica, everyone in school will love her again. But when she gets back home, things are still the same.
The following Monday, Susan returns to school as Stargirl. She brings happy face cookies for everyone in class, but when she gives one to Hillari, the girl smashes it with her show. Stargirl doesn’t seem to care. Leo is angered that she would go back to being different. He asks if she has given up trying to be normal and popular and she smiles as she says that she has. She kisses him on the cheek and says that she is okay with him not asking her to the dance that week.
Kevin asks Leo who he is taking to the dance, and he says that he doesn’t know. That night he closes the curtain in his room so the moonlight can’t come in. Kevin starts to say mean things about Stargirl to Leo and Leo realizes that he somehow gave Kevin the impression that he was okay with criticism of her. The other students seem to hate Stargirl even more since she tried to be normal.
Leo chooses to sit out the dance although Stargirl goes by herself. She drives up to the dance on a bike that is covered in flowers with a 10-foot train of flowers behind her. Stargirl dances to the songs by herself. One unpopular boy starts dancing with her, and this breaks the tension of the dance, making it so other boys start dancing with her. The ‘Bunny Hop’ song comes on, and Stargirl leads the dance. Stargirl leads the Bunny Hop out into the desert, and everyone has a great time dancing and laughing. Hillari, who is also at the dance, becomes enraged and slaps Stargirl across the face. Everyone is shocked, but Stargirl only kisses Hillari on the cheek and rides off on her bike. None of the students ever see Stargirl again after this.
A few weeks after the dance, having not heard from Stargirl, Leo goes by her house and finds out that it is empty and up for sale. Stargirl and her family seem to have vanished. He asks Archie if he has any information about them, but Archie says that he doesn’t. Leo seems to want some reassurance that Stargirl existed, and Archie gives him this, saying that she was one of the rare “star people.” Archie thinks star people are people that are different and hard to figure out. He thinks that star people are more connected to the earth and the past than normal people. He also assures Leo that Stargirl did really like him.
For one year, Leo hears nothing of Stargirl and he and Archie don’t speak of her. But right before Leo leaves for college, Archie shows him the tool shed in his backyard where Stargirl kept her ‘office’ which is full of craft supplies and files on tons of different people. There is also a calendar with everyone’s birthday marked.
Leo finds the file on him and finds the newspaper article that his mother wrote as well as a sheet of paper with his likes and dislikes. He says that Stargirl was a spy and Archie says that it was a “lovely treason.” Leo goes to college and Archie comes to visit him regularly. One time when Leo visits years later, he finds that Archie has left town and the shed is gone. An elementary school has been built in the desert over where Stargirl’s meditation spot once was.
In the epilog, we find out that thought Leo has kept in touch with Kevin after school ended, he never attends his high school reunions although they happen every five years. Kevin is now an insurance salesman with a family. He says that at every reunion, the students talk about Stargirl and wonder what happened to her. Stargirl’s influence on Leo still exists even fifteen years later. He still does some of her quirky things like leaving change for people on the sidewalk and walking in the rain without an umbrella. Leo still wonders where Stargirl is now and what she calls herself. He doesn’t have a family of his own, but he doesn’t mind being alone. One day he feels as though he is being watched and receives a package in the mail. In the package is a porcupine necktie.
Leo Borlock – the protagonist of the novel. Leo is an average high school boy whose life is changed when he meets and falls in love with a strange girl named Stargirl. Leo’s main turmoil comes from being in love with, and wanting to date Stargirl but being ashamed of how different she is. Leo doesn’t understand how Stargirl can not care what anyone thinks of her. As with most normal teenagers, Leo is bothered by what the other kids in his school think of him, and though he tries, he can’t bring himself to ignore their shunning of him when he dates Stargirl. Leo’s individuality manages to peek it’s way out every once in a while, such as with his love of porcupine ties although he seems to unintentionally snuff it whenever it does.
Overall, Leo is a moral person, who tries to protect Stargirl from being on the Hot Seat show even before he really knows her, as he thinks that the questions that the other students ask will be mean spirited.
However, Leo is also cowardly in how he deals with the other student’s disapproval of Stargirl and his relationship with her. He insists on changing her to conform to their standards even when he can see that she is not happy with how she is changing. He manages to change everything that he loved about her at the beginning that had to do with her quirky individuality and still thinks that he is the one in the right.
In the end, Stargirl effectively breaks up with Leo the night before the dance and Leo is heartbroken when he finds that she has left town without telling him where she is going. He never sees her again but at the end of the novel he suspects that she is still watching him from somewhere as she leaves him the gift of the porcupine tie.
Stargirl Caraway – Stargirl is the titular character of the novel. She is a free-spirited, quirky teenage girl who drops a bombshell in her town when she starts attending the local high school. Over the course of the novel, Stargirl goes from being the new girl to the most popular girl in school to the most hated. Through it all, she handles every situation with her endless enthusiasm and aplomb. Stargirl is a hard character to define since even the people in her life think that she defies explanation.
Her main character traits are that she is kind and fun. She enjoys cheering as loud as she can for everyone who plays in the sports she is cheering leading for – even when it is the opposite team. She enjoys when attention is on her, and she can entertain people and make them laugh. She enjoys doing good deeds for people above all and eschews any recognition for them.
Stargirl is a classic fish out of water character and an unsuspecting rebel against the rules of normal society. She doesn’t seem to realize that she is not average and goes through life doing what she enjoys regardless of whether or not it seems odd to others.
Stargirl is also very connected to nature and animals. She has a pet rat named Cinnamon that she brings with her everywhere, even to school and she regularly stops what she is doing to listen for bird calls. She also has a bowl of hair in her bedroom that she leaves out for the local birds to make nests with. She seems to believe that her humanity and good deeds should extend to animals.
When Stargirl is asked by Leo to change herself so that the people in school will think that she is normal, she agrees—an obvious sign that she loves Leo. However, her time as ‘Susan’ does not last very long as she quickly realizes that the others in school are never going to forgive her anyway and she might as well go back to being her true self. Stargirl’s message is one of non-conformity and being yourself that ultimately triumphs in the end. When she disappears from Mica, it doesn’t seem as if she is angry with the other students, merely that she went with her instinct for changing names when she feels that she is done with them and changed towns instead.
Jerry Spinelli Biography
Jerry Spinelli was born on February 1st, 1941 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The son of a typesetter, Spinelli’s family lived in an apartment in front of a brewery for the first years of his life. When Spinelli was six years old, his family bought a house and moved to the other side of town. Spinelli grew up playing sports including basketball and baseball. When Spinelli was in high school, his family moved, and he found that his world shifted somewhat. He began writing to compensate, and his first piece was a poem about a big football game at his school that ended up being published in the local newspaper.
After this Spinelli decided that he wanted to become a writer. He graduated high school and went on to attend Gettysburg College, graduating with an A.B. (Artium Baccalaureatus) degree in 1963. He received a Masters of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and served in the Naval Reserve throughout the late 1960’s.
In 1966, he began working as an editor and in 1977, he married his wife, Eileen Mesi who already had six children. After his novels for adults kept getting rejected, Spinelli began writing children’s novels as he found that he was getting many ideas from his own children’s antics.
He was first published in 1982 with the book “Space Station Seventh Grade” and has written over 30 children’s and Young Adult novels in his lifetime. Some of his more popular novels are “Manic Magee” (for which he won one of the most prestigious children’s literature awards, the Newbery Medal in 1991 and the Children’s Editor’s Choice Award in 1991), Wringer (for which he was nominated for a Newbery Award in 1997) and “Stargirl” (2000).
Spinelli regularly collaborates with his wife, who is also a children’s writer on picture books for kids. They have six children and twenty-one grandchildren and currently live in Pennsylvania.