Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Stargirl

Title: Stargirl
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★

Stargirl

Picture your life—and everyone else’s around you—as a vast, boiling desert, occasionally littered with cacti and yuccas. For you, blandness is normality.  You’re all content on playing chameleon, melting against the nondescript walls of conformity, swaddling yourselves with the safety of not being singled out. You’re a bundle, you’re a “we,” and you like everything to stay that way.

But glitches occur, no matter how perfectly shielded you think your system is. It may scare you one minute and enchant you the next, but when you realize it’s jeopardizing your perfect routines, you’re going to despise it. You’ll get the urge to banish it. It’s a rare event, but no worries—it’s only a normal stimulus of most people in your place.

This is the story of Susan “Stargirl” Caraway, the ‘glitch’ that cartwheeled her way into the “normal” lives of Mica High School students…and into the heart of sixteen-year-old Leo Borlock. With her floor-length skirts, pet rat, and a ukelele strapped to her back, she faces each day with a bounce in her step and a grin on her freckle-dusted face, not minding what everyone else will think of her.

I'd like to refer to Stargirl as a rebel, even if she only loosely fits in the category. Among my roster of female fictional revolutionaries, she—ironically—is the most normal. She's not rising up against a cruel or corrupt government in a post-apocalyptic setting, nor is she preparing to serve cold dishes of revenge to those who did her wrong. She's just being herself. It's stereotype she's ramming against. It's no secret that in a world that forces you to be someone else, being yourself is perhaps one of the hardest battles you can ever fight. Not to Stargirl, though: she doesn’t even need to lift a finger to win it. She is not afraid to be unique...that is, before she fell in love. Leo is a typical MHS kid, and while he loves Stargirl so much, he doesn’t want to be turned into a social pariah because of their relationship. So he works to transform Stargirl into a normal girl, oblivious to what it will do to her.

However, Stargirl as a character is a tad too Mary Sue-ish (too Pollyannaish?), and because we haven't seen her 'side' of the story, it's easy to judge she's a shallow, flat character. Perhaps that's why Spinelli spun a sequel to mold her more? I'm not really sure. While I think the portrayal of the main female protagonist is decent, she needs more development.

Spinelli have spun a simple tale that will without a doubt resonate with every teenage heart that will encounter it. I marvel at the characterization of Leo, at how human he seems to be instead of being just another one-dimensional knight-in-shining-armor figure that pops up frequently in most of today’s young adult novels. He doesn’t recklessly rush to rescue his ‘princess’ when she’s in trouble; in fact, he even runs away from the scene, afraid of the prickly eyes and thoughts of the people around him. He is an ordinary boy torn between having to choose between the approval of the society and the happiness of being with the girl he loves. I understood his insecurities and behavior; I tasted his fears, and in the several nights he spent thinking on his moonlit sheets, it’s almost as if I caught a glimpse of everything he’s dreading. Sometimes I dislike him; sometimes I feel the urge to give him a sucker punch for not doing what he thinks is right “because the others think it’s wrong.” He’s like a bandwagon-riding, pesky little brother to me most of the time. I don't know if it will make sense to you, but I began liking him because he so...unlikable.

The world-building is not precisely first-rate, but the setting greatly adds to the symbolism department of the novel. The desert stands for the collective “we” of MHS. Then there are “enchanted places” beyond the sand dunes and saguaros—places that are always there but you can never locate with your naked eye, places that represent someone like Stargirl. More than once, a character explicates how Stargirl is closer to what we all should be, and that something is inside us already. We just need to get in touch with it by using our hearts as our compasses.

The plot only takes a backseat here, since the enigmatic Stargirl steers the wheel of the story. There are a couple of twists and turns, but nothing that can imprint an indelible memory in my head. There are poignant scenes, hilarious scenes, and a mixture of both, but what really struck a chord with me are the times of ruminations and the conversations between Archie and Leo. :)

A magnificent portrayal of the celebration of nonconformity, Stargirl is one of the few books that are so plain on the surface but is beautifully labyrinthine when you delve deeper into it. Four stars for a great read! I can’t wait to get my hands on Love, Stargirl.

4 comments:

  1. yet another good review! Thanks for this! Now I'm going to wait for your review for Love, Stargirl. I hope you'll like it as much as I did.

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    1. Thank you! I'll buy that book soon. :)

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  2. Love Stargirl is not as good, but I would love to see what you think about it. Post more honest reviews! I love them,

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    1. I'll read it, I promise! Sorry about my sparse updates, I'll try to post more reviews soon!

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