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Part fairy godmother, part outcast, part dream-come-true, the star of Spinelli's latest novel possesses many of the mythical qualities as the protagonist of his Maniac Magee. As narrator Leo Borlock reflects on his junior year in a New Mexico high school, Stargirl takes center stage. Even before she appears at Mica High, Spinelli hints at her invisible presence; readers, like Leo, will wonder if Stargirl is real or some kind of mirage in the Sonoran Desert. By describing the girl through the eyes of a teen intermittently repulsed by and in love with her, Spinelli cunningly exposes her elusive qualities. Having been homeschooled, Stargirl appears at Mica High dressed as a hippie holdover and toting a ukulele, which she uses to serenade students on their birthdays; she marks holidays with Halloween candy and Valentine cards for all. As her cheerleading antics draw record crowds to the school's losing football team's games, her popularity skyrockets, yet a subtle foreboding infuses the narrative and readers know it's only a matter of time until she falls from grace. For Leo, caught between his peers and his connection to Stargirl, the essential question boils down to one offered to him by a sage adult friend: "Whose affection do you value more, hers or the others'?" As always respectful of his audience, Spinelli poses searching questions about loyalty to one's friends and oneself and leaves readers to form their own answers. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Gr. 6^-9. Sixteen-year-old Leo recounts Stargirl's sojourn at Mica High in an allegorical story that is engagingly written but overreaches. Everyone notices Stargirl when she comes to school. She wears a granny gown, strums a ukulele, and sings "Happy Birthday" to kids in the cafeteria. She also carries around a pet rat. Her classmates veer between ignoring her and being discreetly fascinated by her weirdness--dancing when there's no music, speaking in class of trolls and stars. Slowly, Stargirl attracts a following, especially after she gives a spellbinding speech in an oratorical contest and singlehandly stirs up school spirit. But her intense popularity is short-lived as, predictably, the teens turn on her. Leo is attracted by Stargirl and her penchant for good works. But just about the time they get together, the rest of the school is shunning her, and to his confusion and despair, Leo eventually turns his back on Stargirl, too. Spinelli firmly captures the high-school milieu, here heightened by the physical and spiritual barrenness of an Arizona location, a new town where people come to work for technology companies and the school team is called the Electrons. Dialogue, plot, and supporting cast are strong: the problem here is Stargirl herself. She may have been homeschooled, may not have seen much TV, but despite her name, she has lived on planet earth for 15 years, and her naivete is overplayed and annoying. When Leo tells her that not everyone likes having somebody with a ukulele sing "Happy Birthday" to them, she is shocked. That she has not noticed she is being shunned is unbelievable, and, at times, readers may feel more sympathy for the bourgeois teens than the earnest, kind, magical Stargirl. That's too bad, because Spinelli's point about the lure and trap of normalcy is a good one. But to make it real, Stargirl needed to have at least one foot on the ground. --Ilene Cooper
School Library Journal
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Gr 6-10-High school is a time of great conformity, when being just like everybody else is of paramount importance. So it is no surprise that Stargirl Caraway causes such excitement and confusion when she arrives at Mica High in Arizona. Initially, everyone is charmed by her unconventional behavior- she wears unusual clothing, she serenades the lunchroom with her ukulele, she practices random acts of kindness, she is cheerleader extraordinaire in a place with no school spirit. Naturally, this cannot last and eventually her individuality is reviled. The story is told by Leo, who falls in love with Stargirl's zany originality, but who then finds himself unable to let go of the need to be conventional. Spinelli's use of a narrator allows readers the distance necessary to appreciate Stargirl's eccentricity and Leo's need to belong to the group, without removing them from the immediacy of the story. That makes the ending all the more disappointing-to discover that Leo is looking back imposes an unnecessary adult perspective on what happened in high school. The prose lapses into occasionally unfortunate flowery flights, but this will not bother those readers-girls especially-who will understand how it feels to not quite fit the mold and who attempt to exult in their differences.-Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.