Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Stargirl

I really want to love this YA book by Jerry Spinelli. Everyone seems to love it. But I have to say, it didn't do much for me.

I read Stargirl as part of my quest for three perfect books to read for a middle-school literature circle I'm teaching in the fall. The book appeared on several "Listmania" lists on, in the category "best books for middle-schoolers" or something like that. It sounded intriguing. The story goes that Stargirl appears in school one day. She's been homeschooled her whole life, and she is a complete individual: a nonconformist who plays the ukelele at lunchtime, cheers for the opposing team at basketball games, and wears crazy outfits. She's hated, then revered, then rejected again. The book is narrated by Leo, who ultimately becomes her boyfriend for a few weeks. Predictably, he can't stand the shunning involved in being associated with her, so he rejects her too. The book is all about nonconformity and group-think in a school setting.

I am always slightly uneasy when I dislike or feel ambivalent about a book that is so well-loved. I feel obligated to analyze myself. I think in this case, much of my annoyance with this book has to do with Stargirl being homeschooled. No doubt this is a reaction to the stereotype of the weird homeschooler as portrayed by Stargirl. I understand that this was meant to be a compliment; that Stargirl in her nonconformity is somehow magical and wonderful and is exactly what we all should aspire to be. But it just didn't work for me. Again, it could be because I'm a homeschooling parent and also teach literature to homeschooled teens, but her character felt silly. Maybe I'm so used to seeing/being a nonconformist that one as a central character seems so contrived.

But here's the other thing: I just didn't think this book was terribly well written. The characters were too flat. I couldn't get a grasp on any of them, including Stargirl. I understand that the characters had to be somewhat flat so that Stargirl could shine among them, but they were too flat. And she was too colorful without having a great deal of depth.

But I'm just one voice in hundreds who have reviewed Stargirl, and I'm an adult reader of a YA book. I suspect my preteen daughter will like this book. I'll report on that later. But I'm not going to be using it in my lit circle, especially since the book depends on the public school group-think as essentially a main character—and pits the lone homeschooler as a heroine/freak.


serendipity_viv said...

Your right - it probably would appeal to the younger audience. Might pick it up for my girls.

Jessica said...

I didn't like this one either. I agree with you about the characters - I didn't care or relate because they were just there. They didn't come alive.