Thursday, January 9, 2014

Standing Up For Stargirl

If you are reading my blog and you haven't yet read Stargirl and its sequel, Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, then go read them and then come back and read this. They are very quick reads, so that's a totally manageable request. This is a copy-paste of a review I wrote on Goodreads of Love, Stargirl, because I disagreed with what some other reviewers were saying. IT HAS SPOILERS!!!


I'm writing this review to stand up for Stargirl.

A lot of other reviewers seem to have really hated this book [Love, Stargirl] in comparison to its predecessor, Stargirl. The main reasons I've read for this are that, first, the whole point of Stargirl written from Leo's perspective is that Stargirl Caraway is mysterious, ethereal, and otherworldly, and therefore a sequel written from her perspective spoils the magic and mystery; and that, second, If Stargirl is supposed to serve as an example of what people should strive to be, then she oughtn't to spend so much time moping over her ex-boyfriend, Leo.

I picked up Stargirl and Love, Stargirl to read because I'm starting a part-time job as English teacher to two of my friend's homeschooled children (that's two children, not two friends, the apostrophe's in the correct place), and I was looking for a selection of enjoyable reads that were both low-level and well-written (an astonishingly rare combination), and Stargirl came up on someone's list. I started reading it (and its sequel) via the Amazon "Look Inside" preview, and the first time they omitted a serious chunk of text I went out to the used bookstores, bought both, and read through them immediately. The books are VERY well-written without being too SAT-word heavy for 7- and 9-year olds to get through easily (I hope!). The reader picks up interesting, odd facts about mockingbirds, solstices, weather patterns, and rat breeds if he/she is paying attention, which is one of my favorite things in books about particularly knowledgeable characters. All the characters in Love, Stargirl (as in Stargirl) are entertaining, and each is likable and charming in his/her own way.

I was attracted to Stargirl at first for I think a different reason that the publisher expects most people to be. The promotional writing on Amazon indicated that readers would be mystified by Stargirl and relate to/align themselves with Leo, who has to choose between Her (Stargirl, a shining beacon of love, light, truth, and adventure) and Them (the rest of the MAHS student body, motivated only by passing fads, rules for popularity, and basketball; in other words, victims of the human psychological condition). However, I relate very closely to Stargirl. I was never homeschooled like she was, but I was never properly a part of any clique at school. I spent my entire schooling up to late high school with few to no close friends, because I would rather be forming relationships with books. Somehow, towards the end of high school, my confidence and sense of adventure blossomed, and the following quotes about Stargirl Caraway could easily be direct quotes about me:

"Several times in those early weeks of September, she showed up in something outrageous. A 1920s flapper dress. An Indian buckskin. A kimono. One day she wore a denim miniskirt with green stockings, and crawling up one leg was a parade of enamel ladybug and butterfly pins. "Normal" for her were long, floor-brushing pioneer dresses and skirts."

“Throughout the day, Stargirl had been dropping money. She was the Johnny Appleseed of loose change: a penny here, a nickel there. Tossed to the sidewalk, laid on a shelf or bench. Even quarters. 
'I hate change,' she said. 'It's so . . . jangly.'
'Do you realize how much you must throw away in a year?' I said.
'Did you ever see a little kid's face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?'"

"She saw things. I had not known there was so much to see. 
She was forever tugging my arm and saying, 'Look!'
I would look around, seeing nothing. 'Where?'
She would point. 'There.'
In the beginning I still could not see. She might be pointing to a doorway, or a person, or the sky. But such things were so common to my eyes, so undistinguished, that they would register as 'nothing' I walked in a gray world of nothing.”  

I wanted to read these books because she and I had so much in common, and there are things she is better at than I am, and things I'm better at than she is, and I wanted to learn from her, and I wanted to read the story of someone who was so much like me. As you can imagine, I was pretty disappointed in Leo over the second half of Stargirl, but Stargirl herself was never disappointing to me.

Okay, now that I've given you my background info, I'm going to actually address the complaints about Love, Stargirl, that other reviewers have expressed.

Stargirl is not mysterious. She is not an alien. She is not superhuman. She is not any of those things. She is, just like Spinelli insists via his Wise Old Man, Archie, totally human--more human or at least more in touch with her humanity than most of the rest of the book's cast, in fact. She is very in touch with her own humanity and the earth on which she lives, and with the humanity of those around her. She's adjusted her habits accordingly, and is generally better at being selfless than most characters and most real people are. She's certainly better at it than I am.

If Stargirl is a real, regular, non-mysterious human just like you, as becomes rather more clear in Love, Stargirl, if you weren't paying close enough attention to Stargirl and Archie in the first book, then Love, Stargirl should be a beacon of hope. It is a glimpse into the inner workings of the mind of someone who actually cares about humanity and living each day to its fullest. This is actually amplified by the fact that she spends the first part of the book moping over Leo, about which others have complained.

Every bit of Stargirl's struggle with her feelings for Leo is real. When you are a person who loves as easily and as deeply as Stargirl does, that love does not go away easily, and it shouldn't. You don't have to stop loving someone to move on to the next part of your life. I think most people today, when they are broken up with (pardon my dangling preposition), even if it was with someone they were really crazy about, someone who was maybe a really great person, they try to demonize the ex-partner. That's really not necessary, and often really detrimental to our personal growth. Stargirl isn't exactly Miss Psychologically Healthy as she doesn't-even-try to get over Leo in the first two thirds of the book, but even then she understands and implements something that most of us don't: she can be upset with Leo for turning his back on her, and recognize that he doesn't deserve her, while still realizing that his weaknesses and faults do not make him a bad person, and while still loving him despite those weaknesses and faults.

Even worse, the other thing that many people do when they're broken up with, if they don't demonize the ex-partner, is that they turn against themselves. I've seen friends after a bad breakup insist that it was all their fault, pick apart every conversation over the course of the whole relationship to find some little thing (or collection of things) they said wrong to steer the whole 'ship astray, or insist they're too fat, or stupid, or ugly, or somehow were never good enough for the other person in the first place, even often when it's perfectly clear to uninvolved third parties that this is not the case.

Stargirl also does not do this. I was a little disappointed in her when she became Susan in the first book, but when she decided to be Stargirl again, she never looked back, and had no regrets. She recognized that becoming a better person and becoming a different person are two different things, and she should only have to do one of them. Leo wanted her to become Susan, a DIFFERENT person. Stargirl just wants to be a better Stargirl, which is the challenge she faces in Love, Stargirl. She never blames herself for Leo turning from her, which is good. She DOES let herself become a little unhealthily obsessed with linking her happiness to Leo's presence (in his absence), but any of you who have been through a similar experience cannot tell me that her misery is unrealistic. And, in the end, we come to a thematic conclusion. There's no point spending all that time mourning Leo's absence, because Leo is yesterday and maybe tomorrow, but he's not today, and TODAY is today, and there's only one of those each day, and they all become yesterdays so quickly, and once a today is a yesterday there's nothing you can do to change how much of it you spent moping or mourning and how much of it you spent joyfully.

The climax of the book is the Winter Solstice sunrise, something you really can only see once a year, and the way Stargirl set it up, maybe only once in a lifetime. Stargirl almost gave up on it, and was afraid that no one else would want to live for today enough to be up on a snowy hill before sunrise... and then pretty much every character in the book showed up, including Betty Lou the agoraphobe (who usually lives in some combination of yesterdays and tomorrows, but was the very person to give Stargirl the advice from the Buddhists about living today) and Charlie (who spends each day at the cemetery with his wife who is buried there, reliving all his yesterdays with her; even Charlie the yesterday-man is convinced to go see this sunrise).

In summation, if you're disappointed because you found out Stargirl is a regular human being who's just a few steps ahead of the rest of us, you shouldn't be, you rather should see that as a hopeful sign that you, too, can improve as a human being; and if you're disappointed that she mopes over Leo you should recognize that she's a lot more healthy about moping than most people are and that in fact the whole point of the book is that she stops moping over Leo when she realizes that she's supposed to live today for today.

The end.


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