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?