Okay, I’m going to say it: Stargirl (2000) by Jerry Spinelli is a young adult classic (maybe even a children’s classic but that’s really a cataloguing issue that I am ill-equipped to discuss). (Find it on Bookshop.)
This designation raises the question: What makes a book (any book) a classic? For me it means a book that is timeless; something you can read years and years after it was written without the book losing its vibrancy. A classic also needs to have memorable writing and characters. It needs to speak to the reader. It needs to be a book that you enjoy more every time you read it or talk about it. Classics are the books you want to immerse yourself in: the books you wish you could live in with the characters that you wish were your friends.
I’ll say it again: Stargirl is a classic.
The story starts with Leo Borlock, who moved to Mica, Arizona at the age of twelve. Around the time of his move, Leo decided to start collecting porcupine neckties–no easy task, especially in Mica. For two years, Leo’s collection stood at one tie. Until his fourteenth birthday when an unknown someone presented Leo with his second tie, someone who was watching from the sidelines.
Mica’s unusual events don’t stop there. The story continues when Leo is a junior in high school. On the first day the name on everyone’s lips is Stargirl. Formerly home-schooled, Stargirl is a sophomore like no one Leo (or any of the other Mica students) has ever met before:
“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 corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.”
After finishing this book and recently reading Love, Stargirl (Spinelli’s newly released sequel), I have my own explanation: Stargirl is magical. She represents the kind of magic more people need in their lives: to appreciate the little things, to dare to be different, to be kind to strangers. The kind of magic where you still believe things can be wondrous.
In the story, Leo soon realizes that Stargirl might be someone he could love.
Unfortunately, high school students don’t always believe in (or appreciate) magic like Stargirl’s. As the school moves from fascination to adoration and, finally, to disdain Leo finds himself in an impossible position: forced to choose between the girl he loves and his entire lifestyle.
Technically speaking I love everything about this book: the characters, the story, the cover art. This one has the full package. Spinelli’s writing throughout the story is perfect. He captures Leo’s fascination with Stargirl as well as his equivocation as he is forced to choose between Stargirl and “the crowd.”
Stargirl is not a long book. The writing is cogent, sentences brief. Nonetheless, the text is rich. This book never gets old or boring. Spinelli creates a compelling, utterly new narrative here (with a charmingly memorable heroine).
Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint, Paper Towns by John Green, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Holes by Louis Sachar