Stargirl, a young adult novel by prolific and critically acclaimed author Jerry Spinelli, was published in August 2000. Like many of Spinelli’s other young adult novels, Stargirl deals with issues of conformity versus individuality, and as such, the novel resonates with both young adult readers and adult educators.
Stargirl is narrated by Leo Borlock, an eleventh grader who is content to conform to his close-minded high school environment. Leo and his entire high school are jolted out of their comfortable, conventional existence by the arrival of Stargirl Caraway, an unapologetically unique student who has been homeschooled and is now attending high school for the first time. For the first half of the school year, Leo observes Stargirl and her classmates’ reactions to her odd behavior. The students first regard Stargirl with suspicion and are afraid to socialize with her. As time passes, some of the students fall under Stargirl’s spell and become more individual and open-minded themselves; however, by February of the school year, the students have all come together to express their distrust of Stargirl. When Stargirl refuses to conform to their standards, they ultimately see her as a threat to the community.
In the second half of the novel, Leo develops a personal relationship with Stargirl, during which he is entranced by her, but he then tries to change her into something more “normal.” When he finds that she cannot abandon her individuality, Leo ultimately rejects Stargirl, a decision he comes to regret later in life. Thus, Stargirl explores the way that individuals (Leo) and communities (the high school) react to an individual who refuses to conform. Rather than providing easy answers, Spinelli explores the consequences of Leo’s very human behavior, with all its flaws and weaknesses. Stargirl forces readers to ask themselves how they would respond to a similar situation: would they stand up for the individual, or, like Leo, would they return to the safety of the larger group?
Stargirl opens as narrator Leo Borlock begins eleventh grade at Mica Area High School (MAHS) in Arizona, a typical high school where everyone is pretty much the same—all the students wear the same style of clothing, listen to the same type of music, eat the same kind of food, and talk about the same things. Leo, an introvert and observer, is comfortable in this conformist environment. However, on the first day of school, everyone is abuzz about a new tenth grader, Stargirl Caraway, who is wearing a ruffled, old-fashioned dress long enough to cover her shoes, carrying a ukulele, and toting her pet rat, Cinnamon, to classes. And Stargirl’s behavior only gets odder from there: on the first day of school, she starts singing, dancing, and playing the ukulele in the cafeteria. On subsequent days, her outfits include a 1920s flapper dress, an Indian buckskin, and a kimono, and she begins a tradition of serenading students with the “Happy Birthday” song during lunch.
At first, the other students are suspicious of Stargirl and avoid her. She eats lunch alone but does not seem to care. Leo, however, is intrigued by Stargirl—but not bold enough to approach her directly. Instead, he follows her after school as she walks to a house where she leaves something in the mailbox. Once she is gone, Leo looks in the box and discovers she has left an unsigned card reading “CONGRATULATIONS.” Next, Stargirl walks out of town and into the desert, where Leo follows her for a while before finally getting nervous and returning home.
One night, at a poorly attended MAHS football game, Stargirl dances barefoot on the field during halftime; then, once the second half starts, she grabs the football, dances with it, and throws it over the visiting team’s bench, to the delight of the audience. At the next football game, more than a thousand people show up—but Stargirl does not. However, Stargirl is soon invited to join the school cheerleading squad, and she agrees. At the last football game of the season, Stargirl makes her cheerleading debut to a huge audience, and she never stops cheering, even during breaks. She even joins the other team’s cheerleaders and performs wild acrobatics.
Following Stargirl’s lead, other students begin to become more active, vivacious, and individualistic—they join school activities, start new clubs, wear unusual fashions. As those changes occur, Leo is merely an interested observer, never interacting with Stargirl directly. However, Stargirl does agree to be a guest on Hot Seat, the school TV show that Leo runs with his friend Kevin. They plan to film her interview on February 13th.
In the months before the interview, however, some of Stargirl’s activities garner less-than-enthusiastic responses. When Stargirl attends a funeral for someone she does not know, the family gets angry and throws her out. When basketball season begins and the cheerleaders perform at games, Stargirl cheers for the other team as well as her own, which makes fans increasingly angry. As a result, Stargirl loses her newfound popularity, and when the Hot Seat taping occurs, it turns into a disaster.
The Hot Seat show includes a “jury” of high school students who ask the interviewee—in this case, Stargirl—questions. At Stargirl’s interview, the jury quickly becomes vicious, asking her why she cheers for the other team and why she meddles in everyone’s business whether she is asked to or not. For the first time, Stargirl actually looks hurt...
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One-Page Summary and Analysis
How important is it to “fit in” during high school? Jerry Spinelli explores that question in his young adult novel Stargirl, which is the first book in a two-part series.
The narrator, Leo Borlock, tells Stargirl’s story in the first person point of view after fifteen years have elapsed. The narrative begins with a flashback of Leo receiving a favorite porcupine tie from his uncle when he moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona and a surprise second porcupine tie he receives on his fourteenth birthday. Leo has no idea that the anonymous gift giver will take him out of his comfort zone and will become the love of his life during high school. Nor does he realize that she will change the school and his life.
This unusual and anonymous gift segues to Leo meeting the unique and unconventional Stargirl in Mica, Arizona. The setting is a fictitious town and is home to MicaTronics where many of the inhabitants are employed. Many of the townspeople were not born there, but came to Mica for work. The school is mainly upper-middle class. Local teens attend Mica Area High School, MAHS, home of the Electrons.
Once Stargirl, who was previously homeschooled, arrives at MAHS, Hillari Kimble speads a rumor that she is a “plant” to improve school spirit. Many students think that she just could not be for real. However, Leo in his heart knows she is “real” and watches her shyly from afar.
Stargirl’s behavior is not typical for most high school students. At her first football game, Stargirl cheers for both teams, dances during halftime with the band and is chased off the top of the goal posts. The next day she is invited to become a cheerleader. The football team that hardly had enough ticket sales to pay for the lights is now a crowded affair. By January, Stargirl is the most popular girl in school.
Stargirl’s intentions are always pure. However, her unconventional behavior eventually gets her into trouble. The first conflict occurs when someone overhears her saying the Pledge of Allegiance wrongly. Next, she attends a funeral of a classmate’s relative whom she did not know and upsets the dead girl's mother. She also leaves a new bike without a note for a boy who breaks his leg, a gesture which upsets the family. Then, the basketball team wins all its games and school spirit is high. At first, the students do not mind Stargirl cheering for the other team. However, when the team wins every game and has a chance at winning the state title, they mind.
One large conflict in Stargirl's life involves Leo and his best friend Kevin. They interview Stargirl on Hot Seat, a MAHS television show. A “jury” of school students may ask questions but are not allowed to render verdicts or to vote. The show starts with a funny incident when Stargirl acts like the seat was actually “hot,” and then Cinnamon, Stargirl's pet rat, climbs into Kevin’s shirt. Then, the jury begins pelting her with questions and comments about her unusual name, the Pledge of Allegiance debacle and cheering for the other team. The show never airs; however, the whole school hears about what happens.
A turning point in the novel occurs during the biggest basketball game of the year. After the Electrons make it to playoffs, Stargirl begins cheering only for the home team. However, the Electrons begin losing for the first time all year. The star player of the other team breaks his leg on the court, and Stargirl puts his head in her lap as he lies in pain on the floor. The Electrons win after taking out their best player. At the next big game, she keeps cheering when it is obvious that the Electrons will lose, and someone throws a tomato at her face. After this game, the school population begins shunning her, and she is kicked off the cheerleading squad.
After the big game, Leo finds a homemade Valentine card signed in code with a star and a stick figure girl. Stargirl takes him to an “enchanted” place where they meditate. They continue to walk, talk, give presents to strangers and ride bikes. She completely flabbergasts him when she covers the school bulletin board, The Roadrunner, with the words: Stargirl loves Leo. The shunning becomes more intense for Leo.
To please Leo, Stargirl buys regular clothes and tries to act “normal.” She even starts calling herself Susan. They began to do the normal things that couples do, like eat at pizza places, go to the mall and go to the movies. However, “they,” the student body, still do not like her.
Stargirl has a vision that when she wins the oratory contest that the whole town will come out and greet her when she comes back with the trophy. She believes that the shunning will end. Leo goes with her to the contest, and she receives much attention at the state finals when she wins. But when she returns home, no cheering crowd greets her and Stargirl is devastated.
After the disaster of the contest homecoming, Stargirl becomes herself again. She dresses in long skirts and plays her ukulele at lunch. Dori Dilison, her only friend, stays with her. Leo was too stunned and cowardly to hang out with her. She even tells him that it is all right that he does not ask her to the Ocotillo Ball.
At the ball, Leo is watching from afar on his bicycle when Stargirl arrives in a bicycle sidecar driven by Dori. She is wearing a beautiful yellow dress full of flowers. She dances by herself and then a boy asks her to dance. Later, she leads the bunny hop all over the Mica Country Club with the whole school joining in, except for Wayne and Hillari. After they arrive back on the dance floor, Hillari tells her that she ruins everything and slaps her. Stargirl kisses her on the cheek and leaves.
Leo goes to her house after watching all of this from a distance, but the family leaves town. He goes to Archie, his mentor, for answers. Leo knows he blew it. Before Leo goes to college, he visits Archie and sees her “office” and finds his file. Later he visits Archie, and they bury one of Archie’s favorite skulls with a secret piece of paper in it.
In the last chapter, the story flashes forward fifteen years. Now, an elementary school stands on her enchanted place. MAHS now has a Sunflower Club, an organization that is dedicated to doing one nice thing for someone else every day. The Electron marching band has a ukulele player, and when the other team makes its first score, a group of students cheer for the opposing team. Fifteen years after the dance, Leo receives a porcupine necktie in the mail, but he never sees Stargirl again.
In most high schools across America, the mantra might be “follow the leader.” Everybody dresses basically the same way, talks the same way, and does the same things. To be accepted, one must act like everyone else. Conformity is the unspoken rule of fitting in.
Leo sums up the student body at MAHS: “MAHS...was not exactly a hotbed of nonconformity....Even our dorks and nerds had a MAHS stamp on them. If we happened to somehow distinguish ourselves, we quickly snapped back into place like rubber bands.”
When Stargirl arrives they do not know how to react her non-conforming ways. She dresses differently, sings "Happy Birthday" to fellow students during lunch and carries around a rat. When she becomes popular, it becomes okay to act like her. Then, she has a fall from grace, and she tries to act like “them.” However, until the ball at the end of the school year, “they” still do not like her. They follow her once again in a bunny hop around a country club. Like Leo says, everybody...
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Introduction and Chapter 1 Summary
Prologue: Porcupine Necktie
Leo begins his story by telling about his uncle’s necktie, the one with the porcupine painted on it. Leo loved that tie and wanted one of his own, but he could not find one. When he was twelve, he and his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Uncle Phil came to say good-bye, wearing his porcupine tie. In a dramatic gesture, his uncle “whipped off the tie” and promptly put it around Leo’s neck as a going-away present.
Leo loved that tie so much he decided to start a porcupine tie collection. After two years in Arizona, his collection consisted of...one tie. Mica, Arizona, was apparently not a popular place for porcupine ties. On Leo’s fourteenth...
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Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 Summary
The second day of school begins much the same way, but today the only topic of conversation is Stargirl. Hillari Kimble is princess of the in crowd and is loudly making her opinion known. She believes the new girl is part of a scam being perpetrated against the student body by the government. When someone asks why, she claims it is an attempt to increase school spirit by giving students something to rally around, which would alleviate the apathy that was rampant at Mica Area High School (MAHS) last year. Kevin hopes she is right so they can capitalize on this curiosity about Stargirl, but Leo is not convinced—until Kevin reminds him they can use Hot Seat to expose Stargirl in front...
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Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 Summary
Three things set Hillari apart from her peers: her mouth, The Hoax, and her boyfriend, Wayne Parr. With her mouth she is constantly complaining. The Hoax is a highlight in Mica High history. Hillari tried out for and easily made the cheerleader squad—only to turn it down. She said she hates sports and did not want to flail around and scream in front of empty bleachers anyway.
Wayne Parr is an unlikely match for Hillari; where she is loud, he is silent. He is probably best described as empty. Although he is gorgeous by anyone’s standards, he is a nobody. He is not in sports, is not particularly academic, belongs to no clubs, and receives no recognition. Yet he serves as...
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Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 Summary
The drama is palpable as Hillari Kimble’s birthday approaches. The day before the auspicious occasion, Hillari walks up behind Stargirl in the cafeteria and stands behind her. The entire room grows silent, but the only one who does not seem to be aware of the impending confrontation is Stargirl. Hillari moves to stand beside her and introduces herself. There is no need for that, of course, as Stargirl Caraway knows every student at Mica High. Hillari then tells Stargirl that her birthday is tomorrow. Again, this is no surprise to Stargirl, and she says so. Then comes the warning: “Don’t try singing to me.” Stargirl’s faint reply is heard by only a few: “I won’t sing to you.”...
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Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 Summary
Things inexplicably begin to change around Thanksgiving. By the beginning of December, Stargirl is the most popular person at Mica High, though no one is quite sure why.
Cheerleading might be the reason. Stargirl only cheers for the last home football game of the season. The crowds are huge and Stargirl does not disappoint—she never stops cheering. She cheers in front of the home crowd, the concession stands, the other team’s cheerleaders, and the team. At halftime she plays her ukulele with the band, then promptly shimmies up the goalposts and is then chased off the field. No one cares that they lost the game.
Hillari Kimble might be the reason. Shortly after the...
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Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 Summary
After the holidays, Kevin and Leo ask Stargirl to appear on Hot Seat, and she readily accepts. Leo is surprised, then he realizes that, behind all the crazy clothes and the outrageous actions, Stargirl is more normal than he ever thought possible. It is mid-January and the big interview is scheduled for February 13. Leo’s reluctance is gone, and he promotes the event wholeheartedly. Posters are made, questions are written, and a jury of peer questioners for the live show has volunteered. “And then things changed again.”
Outside in the courtyard of Mica High School stands a five-foot-tall plywood roadrunner that serves as a bulletin board for announcements and...
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Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 Summary
Hot Seat’s Stargirl episode is here. Students run the entire show, though there is a faculty advisor. The goal of it all is entertainment, and generally after the show is taped everyone—jury, guest, host, crew—mingles in a friendly and comfortable way. After the taping, the show is edited and broadcast later that night. More than half the student body watches the show, and it regularly gets higher ratings than any sitcom on TV. Tonight the numbers will probably be more like ninety percent, but secretly Leo wishes no one would watch.
The set is ready, and the jury enters. Almost always the jury is lighthearted and ready to have fun, but today they march in...
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Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 Summary
Leo admits what happened next is a bit blurry in his recollection. The Hot Seat episode did not air, but by the next day almost every student knows what had happened. Tension mounts as the students wait to see how Stargirl will react. On every holiday so far this year, she gave each student in her homeroom a special treat. The students wonder if she would do so today, on Valentine’s Day. Stargirl gives each student in her homeroom a candy heart that morning.
The first district playoff game is tonight, and the “Mica mob” will settle for nothing less than a state championship. The cheerleaders are as vocal as the crowd is and cheer only for the Electrons, Stargirl...
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Chapter 16 and Chapter 17 Summary
Monday at lunch, Leo stays seated when he sees Stargirl approaching his table, though Kevin’s eyes widen in disbelief. It seems to Leo as if the entire universe is standing still for this moment. She says, “You’re welcome,” then she stands waiting for a response. Leo turns with some trepidation, for he knows this is a moment that will change everything for him. He looks into her eyes and thanks her for the card. Stargirl beams her brightest smile and walks away. Kevin concludes that Stargirl is in love; Leo, of course, denies it.
The rest of the day is difficult for Leo; he feels as if he has been hit—hard. After school he makes his way to Stargirl’s homeroom, not...
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Chapter 18 and Chapter 19 Summary
In the days that follow, Leo feels as if he is alone in the universe—alone except for Stargirl. He senses her presence everywhere. One day, though, he discovers they are literally alone. As they walk side by side through the halls at school, no one speaks to them, looks at them, nods at them, smiles at them, or notices them in any way. Amid the crowd around them, they remain literally untouched.
At lunch, Leo mentions his observation to Kevin—who stares intently at his sandwich. He is only teasing, but Leo asks Kevin what is going on with everyone. Kevin regrets having to tell his friend that he is not the one being shunned. As Leo looks around, he realizes that only Dori...
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Chapter 20 and Chapter 21 Summary
Several times a week, the latest basketball scores are posted on the roadrunner board in the courtyard as teams progress toward the state championship game. Glendale’s scores are always a source of bitterness to Mica High students as their rival continues to win. Another winner is Stargirl. She won the district oratorical contest and is going to compete in Phoenix at the state tournament on the third Friday in April. When the announcement is made in school, Leo wants to cheer but does not. Some actually boo.
In preparation for the competition, Stargirl practices alone in the desert and in front of Leo and Cinnamon. Her speech is constantly changing as she thinks of new things to...
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Chapter 22 and Chapter 23 Summary
Although Leo expects Stargirl’s parents to be throwbacks from the 1960s hippie movement, he finds them to be quite ordinary. Mrs. Caraway is sewing a costume in shorts and a tank top, and Mr. Caraway is on a stepladder painting the outside windowsills on their house. The house contains some eclectic items, but there is nothing that reflects Stargirl’s quirkiness. The same is true for her bedroom, which is ordinary in every way. Leo looks puzzled and Stargirl enjoys his consternation, guessing what he expected to find. She explains she has an office in a secret location, and Leo surmises that Archie knows where it is. Stargirl simply smiles.
Leo does notice two unusual items in...
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Chapter 24 and Chapter 25 Summary
Several days after the kiss, Leo hears whispers of “roadrunner” everywhere he goes. During Spanish class, he finally has an opportunity to look out the window to see if he can catch at least a glimpse of what might be there. What he sees is a white sheet draped across the entire board. On it is a gigantic red heart with the words “STARGIRL LOVES LEO” written in the middle of it. Leo’s first impulse is to take the Spanish teacher to the window to prove that she really loves him. His next reaction is to wish he could tear the sign down.
Suddenly Hillari Kimble’s demand that Stargirl not sing “Happy Birthday” to her makes some sense to Leo. He is mortified....
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Chapter 26 and Chapter 27 Summary
In the cafeteria, Dori Dilson is at her usual table, but Stargirl is nowhere to be found. She is not in the courtyard or in the hallways, either. As Leo walks out of the cafeteria, he hears her voice, but when he turns it does not appear to be her. This girl is wearing sandals and jeans, red lipstick and fingernails, and lots of jewelry. It takes Leo a few moments to realize this girl is, indeed, Stargirl. When he whispers her name, she bats her eyes at him and remarks that Stargirl is such a ridiculous name. She says her name is Susan:
And just like that, Stargirl was gone, replaced by Susan. Susan Julia Caraway. The girl she might have been all along....
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Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 Summary
Mr. and Mrs. Caraway meet them at the hotel, and the five of them have lunch before Susan boards a bus to take contestants to a local high school. The morning’s contestants have finished, and it is time for the second group to present their speeches. Ten finalists will be chosen to continue the competition this evening. To no one’s surprise, Susan makes the cut for the finals. What is surprising is that the speech she gives is not the speech she had been rehearsing so diligently for weeks.
Her speech, entitled “I Might Have Heard a Moa,” was full of enchanted and mystical elements woven together in a lyrical and almost magical way. After the congratulations are given, Leo...
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Chapter 30 and Chapter 31 Summary
Susan sits in stunned silence until her parents arrive to take her home. As she gets out of the car, her trophy plate falls to the asphalt. Susan does not stop to pick it up. Her father retrieves the plate and hands it to Leo with a “strange smile.” Leo and Susan do not see each other all weekend. On Monday, Stargirl is back.
At lunch she gives every student a cookie, including Hillari Kimble, who takes off her shoe and smashes the cookie on the table. Stargirl plays her ukulele with Cinnamon on her shoulder, and Leo does his best to avoid looking at her. He is angry and does not want to encourage Susan’s transformation back into Stargirl. Dori Dilson is the only one who...
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Chapter 32, Chapter 33, and Epilogue Summary
Fifteen years have passed. Leo tells of his reactions shortly after the Ocotillo Ball. He ventures to her house but finds it empty except for a For Sale sign in the yard. He goes to visit Archie, who appears to have been expecting him. Leo asks, “Where?” and Archie answers, “Midwest. Minnesota.”
Leo wonders if he will ever see her again, if she was even real. Archie tells him, “Star people are rare. You’ll be lucky to meet another.” He goes on to explain that sometimes a person comes along who is more in touch with who they really are than the rest of us are. Leo is confused and Archie just smiles. He tells Leo he is lucky because she loved him enough to try to be...
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