In Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, did Stargirl ever want to be popular?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the main characters of Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl is, of course, Stargirl, and it is doubtful she has sense of the word popular as it applies to her own life or as we know it. She is a free spirit from the beginning of the novel:

She laughed when there was no joke. She danced when there was no music. She had no friends, yet she was the friendliest person in school.In her answers in class, she often spoke of sea horses and stars, but she did not know what a football was....
She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.

When Leo Borlock falls for her, it is almost against his will. He is mesmerized by her, and, for a time, they are both content. He takes quiet teasing about Stargirl from his friends and others; however, when the relationship becomes a matter of public scrutiny and ridicule, Leo wants Stargirl to make some changes. While she is content to have Leo's approval and cares nothing about what anyone else thinks, Leo is not. They finally have a conversation in which he tells Stargirl she has to to try to please other people. He says:

Stargirl, you can’t just do things the way you do. If you weren’t stuck in a homeschool all your life, you’d understand. You can’t just wake up in the morning and say you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.

This is truly a puzzling thing for Stargirl, as she has never before cared about popularity or what others think about her. She does not even know where to begin, so she asks Leo what he wants her to do. His answer is short: she “should try to be more like the rest of us.” He cannot tell her why, exactly, but he thinks being more like everyone else will make her more popular. “Two days later Stargirl vanished.”

Stargirl reappears as Susan Julia Caraway, and no one even recognizes her at first, since she is wearing what everyone else would wear. While she does seem to be more popular, at least on the surface, Susan (Stargirl) discovers she is not at all popular when she arrives home from a successful oratorical contest and only one friend is there to greet her. Her one attempt to be "normal" failed, and on the next school day, Stargirl is back. 

Your question asks whether Stargirl "ever want[ed] to be popular," and I would have to say the answer is no. She did want to make Leo happy so she tried to fit in, be "normal," and conform to what others wanted, but her goal never seemed to be popularity. 

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