By Eric Jacobson
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, ages 10 and up
Stargirl has made it onto the list of core literature for 7th graders at Progressive School due to its exploration of two themes key to NHE, service and meditation. Written a little over a decade ago, the book explores familiar territory in an unfamiliar way. Author Spinelli manages to delve into young adult themes in this little gem without ever getting mired in crudity.
While there are many non-conformist coming-of-age stories, few contain such a mystical central female character as Stargirl. She is hard to pin down, polarizes her peers, and vacillates between hero and goat without warning. While it is a story of the triumphant permission to accept one’s eccentricity, it is also a scathing commentary on teenagers, which makes its popularity with them all the more interesting. Spinelli himself says, in an interview printed in the back of the book, “the character is intended to raise dust in the corners of credibility, to challenge our routine ways of seeing ourselves.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how it explores the meaning of service to others. Stargirl has raised service to an art form. I won’t be the spoiler, but suffice it to say that it leaves the reader with many questions over the real value of service to both the giver and the recipient.
In my favorite passage from the book, Stargirl teaches a friend how to free his mind: “Sometimes I try to erase myself. I imagine a big pink soft soap eraser, and it’s going back and forth, back and forth, and it starts down at my toes, back and forth, back and forth, and there they go – poof! – my toes are gone. And then my feet. And then my ankles. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is erasing my senses – my eyes, my ears, my nose, my tongue. And last to go is my brain. My thoughts, memories, all the voices inside my head. That’s the hardest part, erasing my thoughts… I’m not outside my world anymore, and I’m not really inside it either. The thing is, there’s no difference between me and the universe. The boundary is gone. I am it and it is me.”
To enjoy the full context of this passage, read Stargirl with your favorite teen.