Stargirl is one of my favorite characters I have ever met through the world of literature. "Stargirl," written by Jerry Spinelli is an amazing young-aStargirl is one of my favorite characters I have ever met through the world of literature. "Stargirl," written by Jerry Spinelli is an amazing young-adult novel, narrated by Leo Borlock, who becomes intrigued by this girl who has named herself Stargirl and is a bit of an oddball. She sings birthday songs to strangers, leaves coins for other people to find, and cheers for the other team. Her happy, if unconventional nature, is contagious, and Stargirl becomes Leo’s girlfriend, until he becomes embarrassed by her eccentricities, tries to change her, and eventually dumps her. By the time he realizes his mistake, Stargirl has left town, and that is the end of Stargirl for readers – until the sequel, "Love, Stargirl," which picks up with Stargirl in her new town. Starting the sequel, I literally trembled with excitement, I was so happy to be back in Stargirl’s world again and to be reacquainted with her. However, as I got further into "Love, Stargirl," I became increasingly frustrated with every page. I grew tired of her pining over Leo, I grew tired of her rat, I grew tired of her infatuation with the summer solstice, I grew tired of her weird group of friends, and I finally grew tired of Stargirl herself. Reflecting on the book, I wondered if I had ever really liked Stargirl herself or if I had just liked Leo’s version of her and the message she represented to him – that he shouldn’t be so worried about peer pressure and that he should be himself.
The truth is that I still love Stargirl. But the Stargirl I loved is missing in "Love, Stargirl." This new Stargirl has lost her enthusiasm for life. In the original book, Stargirl is perpetually happy and always hoping to make others happy, whether by singing them a birthday song or sending a stranger a surprise gift in the mail. Her enthusiasm is contagious with other students. One boy dyes his hair purple, and a group of girls goes dancing in the rain. The others join Stargirl in a bunny-hop at the school dance, and the school band starts playing ukuleles. Stargirl keeps a "happy wagon" where she keeps stones when she is happy and takes stones away when she is unhappy. The only time she is unhappy, though, is when she is not being herself – that is, when she takes back her given name of Susan and acts like a typical high school student. In "Love, Stargirl," though, while Stargirl remains true to herself, she is still perpetually unhappy. One sequence is typical: "Oh, Leo. I’m sad. I’m crying. I used to cry a lot when I was little. If I stepped on a bug I’d burst into tears. Funny thing – I was so busy crying for everything else, I never cried for myself. Now I cry for me. For you. For us." Stargirl’s happy wagon is pretty much empty throughout the book, as she continues to pine over Leo two years after their break-up. Even at the end, when she has supposedly learned to live in the moment, her newfound contentment is based on a letter she received from Leo, answering "YES," that they will meet again some today: "Your answer has been a new sunrise for me, my own personal solstice, the dawn of a season that I will . . . inhabit one day at a time." The Stargirl we originally met had a natural awe about her, a genuine enthusiasm for life, with or without Leo, but this Stargirl, who is in constant depression over a boy she dated for a few weeks, is missing that infectious happiness and unfortunately never recaptures it.
The other major difference in Stargirl is her surrounding cast of characters. The original book had Stargirl in a typical setting, with other high school students. This served the message of that book well. As the rest of the high school first shunned Stargirl, there was something about Stargirl we could all identify with – this idea of not being accepted, or having to deal with peer pressure. We could look at Stargirl, and even though she was unconventional, we could still see some of ourselves in her, maybe our best parts in her, as she did what we did not – stand up for herself and stay true to her identity. In the sequel, though, Stargirl is being homeschooled, and her only regular contacts are with five-year-old Dootsie, a middle-aged woman named Betty Lou who is afraid to leave her house, and an apparently homeless boy who runs around with a harem of Honeybees. There is nothing for Stargirl to rebel against, because she is probably the most conventional of the group. While it is easy to identify with Stargirl in the original book, as she struggles to fit into school, it is harder to identify with this cast of characters, as in all likelihood, many of us as teenagers did not a five-year-old or a middle-aged shut-in as our best friends. In this sense, Stargirl’s new world is probably unfamiliar to most readers, making it difficult to recognize Stargirl in ourselves. She has changed from a quirky girl with elements we could all identify with from our own teenage years to a quirky girl with a quirky set of friends in a new world of oddball characters that is very difficult to identify with.
In the end, I realized it was the character of Stargirl I liked, not just the idea of her. And that is the problem. In "Love, Stargirl," Spinelli tries so hard to maintain the idea of Stargirl – the message of nonconformity – that Stargirl as a character suffers. I originally like Stargirl for a lot of reasons. I liked her happiness, her good nature, her unselfishness, her enthusiasm for life. I identified with her struggle to fit in. I wished I was more like her. In the sequel, though, Stargirl is transformed into a sad girl hung up on an old boyfriend, with a weird assortment of friends. She is not an outcast, she is just an eccentric, and probably most of us are glad we aren’t her. Instead of trying to fit in, she is just planning her summer solstice party, and that is not something I particularly care about. To me, Stargirl is no longer real or identifiable. The idea of Stargirl remains intact – she is still unconventional, she is still a nonconformist – but the magic of Stargirl has been lost. ...more
"Freak," written by a middle-school teacher, Marcella Pixley, tells the story of Miriam Fisher, a protagonist we can all identify with, as she deals w"Freak," written by a middle-school teacher, Marcella Pixley, tells the story of Miriam Fisher, a protagonist we can all identify with, as she deals with the "new world" otherwise known as middle school. Whereas, at the end of sixth grade, "everyone still had eyebrows that God meant for them to have," now all the girls have "movie-star eyebrows"; instead of caring about poetry, girls care about parties and brushing their hair; instead of being cool for being different, now kids "don’t respect you for your differences. They hate you." Probably most of us remember the big difference from sixth grade to seventh grade and can easily relate to Miriam’s feelings as an outcast or a "freak." "Freak" takes us as readers back into that terrible world of middle school, as Miriam redefines herself from being a freak she is ashamed of to eventually being proud of herself.
To begin with, Miriam describes a very dark, depressing, and even uncomfortable view of her middle school life, one that can bring back some bad memories for those of us able to identify with her role as an outcast. One particularly affecting passage is her description of the school bus: "The only thing more dangerous than being a loser with a group of popular kids behind you is being part of a group of losers all corralled together, like pathetic lambs waiting to be slaughtered. And here’s the worst part. We hate each other. We hate each other even more than the popular kids hate us. We hate each other because when we look at each other, we see what they are laughing at." Miriam’s self-hatred manifests itself in various ways. At one point, when Miriam is caught in an uncomfortable situation with her older sister’s boyfriend, and the group of high school students all breaks into laughter making fun of her, she joins in: "I laughed and laughed and laughed." Miriam tries to transform herself into a more normal middle-school student by locking herself in the bathroom and working on her hair and eyebrows. This uncomfortable scene results in Miriam with an uneven and embarrassing haircut and shaved-off eyebrows, and in her effort to join the crowd, she becomes an even bigger "freak" than she had been before.
However, when Miriam is confronted at school, the hood hiding her hair and eyebrows pulled down by a bully, Miriam retaliates, as ultimately she becomes empowered and finds her true self. At school, when the bully reveals Miriam's new haircut and then tears up her journal in front of the school, Miriam reaches a breaking point, beating the girl in what should be an empowering moment for readers, as Miriam finally stands up for herself. But, when her mother tells her that she is proud of her for standing up for herself, Miriam tells her "You shouldn’t be." The true empowering moment for Miriam isn’t attacking the other girl, but when she shaves all her hair off: "I could see myself changing in the mirror. With my old hair I had looked frightened and shy. . . . Without the hair I looked different. Edges came into view. . . . Was this who I had been underneath? How could I have missed it?" After her friend tells her she looks amazing, Miriam realizes, "It was me. It had been me all the time." Instead of being embarrassed by her new altered look, Miriam goes to a school party and has the boldness and "guts" to step into a compromising situation to save the bully who had torn up her journal, realizing that the bully is going through the same uncertainty and mixed feelings as she is. The bully returns the favor by giving Miriam a new journal, which she christens with the word, "FREAK" in big, bold letters. Instead of being embarrassed by her differences, Miriam is now proud of them, embracing her true self.
In telling the awkward story of the transformation of a middle-school freak, "Freak" redefines the term from one of shame to one of pride. At the beginning of the story, Miriam was someone we could all identify with; at least, at some point in our lives, we have all had the feeling of being a "freak" or not fitting in. However, as Miriam ended up finding herself, she actually lost me, as I no longer identified with the girl with the shaved head who had gone from being shy and frightened to being not afraid of anything. While the ending is somewhat extreme, though, the main point is clear: the only person who can make us feel like a freak is ourselves. The truth is, all of us feel like freaks at some time or another; the only way to get past feeling like a freak is to accept ourselves and embrace our differences. Having differences isn’t something we should be ashamed of but something we should be proud of. Unless we accept ourselves, no one else will. ...more
Wow, I don't understand the good ratings for this book. It is honestly one of the worst books I have ever read. This may be a spoiler, but I will sayWow, I don't understand the good ratings for this book. It is honestly one of the worst books I have ever read. This may be a spoiler, but I will say it anyway as a warning: This is 100 pages of a girl describing over and over again about her being raped and abused. This would be ok if there was a point to this book, but the entire book is depraved and soulless and then the narrator dies. There is a way to tell this kind of story with a soul or some redeeming feature (see Stolen, Room, or anything about the Jaycee Dugard case). This book not only lacks soul and hope, but on top of that it is not even well written. I read a fair amount of YA and there is no way I would ever recommend this book to anyone. BEWARE!...more