Spinelli, Jerry. Stargirl. NY: Knopf, 2000.
narrator: first-person, Leo Borlock
Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Finished this last night and kept thinking about it after I was done. I read Spinelli’s Maniac Magee when my son had to read it for summer reading before seventh grade, and I’m pretty sure I liked it a lot more than my son. The book was presented as a novel dealing with race, and it is that. But that’s not so much what I remember about it. I remember the quirkiness of Maniac Magee and his love for baseball. Like Stargirl, Maniac affects an entire community by being himself. He’s an orphan — at least, there are no parents in the picture — and he lives with an older homeless (?) guy, who is Maniac’s parental figure. The book starts out with the legends surrounding Maniac. Maniac Magee and Stargirl are both peculiarly their own selves; that individuality forces those on other sides of social divisions to break those barriers — so race, in Maniac Magee, and high school cliques in Stargirl, become re-arranged.
But Spinelli doesn’t offer panaceas or fantasy solutions. Stargirl (Susan Julia Caraway) transforms the school by her individuality; the school then veers back to its rigid cliques when their basketball team starts winning for a change. Social relations move in waves with a tide-like back and forth between transformation and conformity. Same thing happens on an individual level as we see Leo struggle with his admiration for Stargirl and his need for peer approval.
Again, parents don’t figure too strongly, and the main adult figure is a retired paleontologist, Archie. Here’s the paragraph introducing him:
“A.H. (Archibald Hapgood) Brubaker lived in a house of bones. Jawbones, hipbones, femurs. There were bones in every room, every closet, on the back porch. Some people have stone cats on their roofs; on his roof Archie Brubaker had a skeleton of Monroe, his deceased Siamese. Take a seat in his bathroom and you found yourself facing the faintly smirking skull of Doris, a prehistoric creodont. Open the kitchen cabinet where the peanut butter was kept and you were face to fossil face with an extinct fox” (30).
Spinelli is as good with setting as he is with character. Stargirl’s enchanted spot in the desert, Leo’s moonlit bedroom window, the Sonoran desert and saguaro cactus. This is a rich book with deep portrayal of conflict, personal and communal. Leo is a junior and Stargirl is a sophomore and the novel takes place in a high school, like Code Orange (Mitty is also a junior in high school) but the issues of conformity/individuality, bullying, shunning are accessible to any reader.