Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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Set in Arizona, Stargirl arrives at Mica Area High School to a curious bunch of onlookers. The students cannot believe she is for real. Stargirl’s eccentric attire includes 1920s flapper dresses, kimonos and a pet rat that rides on her shoulder. Her ukulele strumming at lunchtimes in the canteen, the way she knows when it is everyone’s birthday and her love of life and concern for the welfare of others gives everyone the jitters. They do not understand her; cannot define her. One night when Stargirl cheers and acts so wildly for the school’s under performing football team, she gains a following; as does the football team. The team is popular again and Stargirl’s popularity rises too. Her unusual antics, once thought of as bizarre, are now endearing.After the football season, Stargirl joins the cheer squad for the basketball team. All of a sudden the Mica team, the team that never wins, is on a roll. Stargirl cheers for both teams, wanting everyone to be happy and it is not long before she is seen as a traitor. Her purely good motives are not accepted and the students see her as an evil presence in their midst.

 Told through the eyes of Leo, a shy junior (equivalent to Year 11) at Mica High, we see the student body join together in shunning Stargirl. Leo encourages Stargirl to change and to please Leo she does. Somehow, this makes Stargirl even more unpopular and it certainly makes her unhappy.

 This is a wonderful novel; a great read. Sad, funny, poignant, addictive and always moving, Stargirl focuses on peer pressure to conform and bullying by exclusion. I was a little disappointed to see such little teacher/parent intervention, assistance, concern or even awareness of events. But there is so much to discuss in this novel, I feel that it is worthy of a class set. Although written for upper secondary students, the language and themes are accessible to a much younger audience. The themes of lost opportunities, doing what you believe in, standing up for your friends, peer pressure and the consequences of that peer pressure are just some of the issues that could be studied. There are a few terms that are so American that Australian readers may not understand them (especially those relating to the desert of Arizona), but do not let them put you off this amazing book which deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended.

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