Now that everybody’s all about going back to school, why don’t we revisit an oldie but goodie? When it comes to the high school jungle, nobody knows about its perils more than Stargirl, and in Jerry Spinelli’s novel that features her brilliant uniqueness, we’ll learn about the costs of fitting in—and just how important it is to be true to yourself.
The recent success of The Little Prince and its big screen adaptation should be a clear indication that the dull adult world can only be truly colorful if we each embrace our own unique quirks. When we stay true to what makes us shine bright as illuminating individuals, the world becomes so much better in so many levels.
Just like suppressing the Prince’s individuality removes the life in life, embracing Stargirl’s rareness makes readers see what it truly means to live. Told through the point of view of Leo, the book begins with his penchant for porcupine neckties, showing us just how much he values eccentricity. True enough, when Susan Caraway a.k.a. Stargirl steps into Mica Area High School and into his life, he becomes attracted to her in the most inexplicable way. Homeschooled all her life, Stargirl is not one to take conformity very seriously, and she does just that by wearing strange bucksin, kimonos, and even 1920s flapper clothes. She makes every class interesting by adorning her desk with flowers and a tablecloth, and she likes to sing birthday songs to students she has never met with her trusty ukulele. She loves dancing in the rain and she oddly cheers for both teams during school sports events, and she always makes sure she is kind and full of heart in her own unusual way.
While she gains a tentative popularity in campus at first because of her amusing antics, she eventually becomes an outcast, prompting Leo to question his own budding feelings for her. What ensues is a heartbreaking romance as they try to make sense of their feelings set in the backdrop of a school that shuns them. Caught in the struggle to be socially and publicly accepted, especially for young students in high school, Leo will have to decide what’s more important to him—his desire to fit in, or his relationship with the brilliant girl who does anything but?
This theme is especially relevant as we’ve all experienced the same thing in school one way or another. Looking back, did we decide to go with the flow in order to be accepted, or did we violently refuse to be boxed in? Social norms, even now as adults, follow us and haunt us wherever we go, whether it’s at work in the office or simply in our culture and society as a whole. Too often do we see brilliant minds refusing to be unique, dulling their shine, and suppressing their brilliance for fear of what society might think or say. And it’s a sad reality that even as we’ve already made our way out of school, the need to be socially accepted and to conform is still an overpowering suppressant that oppresses us in real life.
Claiming our unique identities should not be a problem, and the success of stories that explore these themes such as The Little Prince only proves further that we are in dire need of a harsh wake-up call. High school may very well be a microcosm of the real world outside, and just as high schoolers often face peer pressure to avoid ruffling any feathers, we are in constant fear of being rejected because we might not fit in. Still, the overarching motif here is the idea that love should and does make everything better. The romantic love between Leo and Stargirl takes center stage, but what the book really wants to bring across to its readers is the idea of self-love and love for strangers. Stargirl is in the beautiful habit of wanting to brighten the lives and lessen the pain of those around her, whether they’re friends or complete strangers. Moreover, despite her brief stint at trying to be “normal” and trying to fit in to placate Leo, she eventually and ultimately decides that she doesn’t give a crap anymore and she embraces her lovely quirkiness, reclaiming her identity through the powerful act of self-love. We do, after all, say that you can never hope to be loved if you don’t love yourself first, right? Plus, there’s an important lesson in love here for us adults, too—and that is that we should never be in a relationship with anyone who wants to stifle our creativity, dull our shine, and who cannot accept us for who we are, quirks and all.
Despite the rocky events in the middle of the book, a touching ending shows a sort of epilogue where Stargirl inevitably influences the school and changes it forever, so much so that Mica Area High School is never the same again after she leaves. She inspires random acts of kindness throughout the school and town, and the cheering for both teams as well as the ukulele both make lasting marks on the school, too. This just goes to show that we should never try to be anyone other than ourselves, because we will never know how we will influence others just by simply being who we are—and that’s as beautiful a message as any to live by every day.
Stargirl has been an internationally acclaimed success in the literature world for quite some time now, and aside from its play adaptation, a movie is supposedly in the works. Young and promising actors Joey King and Charlie Plummer will star in the Catherine Hardwicke-directed adaptation to the silver screen, and while it’s been quite some time since we’ve had any updates on the production progress, we’re eagerly hoping for its release as it’s sure to be a big hit. And with more and more children’s stories like The Little Prince teaching lessons to us world-weary adults, why the heck not? Maybe it really does take a look back at our younger years to teach us what’s truly important in this life, and with Stargirl, you just can’t go wrong.
*Photos from Jerry Spinelli official website.