stargirl A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I discovered romance in the exquisite pages of Gail Carson Levine’s classic children’s novel, Ella Enchanted. A few years later came a different book that showed me another side of life and love.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli tells the story of a new girl in a small Arizona high school, a girl who confounds everyone by being just who she wants to be and doing just what she wants to do, and the boy who falls in love with her in the face of scorn from his classmates. Leo, the narrator, is a typical teenage boy who, like everyone else, is at first puzzled and curious when Stargirl shows up, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to strangers on her ukulele, wearing strange outfits, congratulating random people for their large and small achievements, and just being nice to everyone. The students, as high schoolers often are, are fickle. While Stargirl and Leo fall for each other, the student body swings from adoration to open hostility, and Leo is faced with the choice: her or them.

Stargirl is the definition of bittersweet. It so perfectly captures the struggle to love someone for who they are, and love them completely. When she tries to conform for Leo’s sake, it’s heartbreaking; and yet he is not a villain for his reluctance. Leo is every one of us, afraid to risk scorn for loving someone different. And what better microcosm of this is there than a small high school?

Stargirl has inspired non-conformists around the country, with Stargirl Societies popping up in schools to promote her message of originality and kindness. She’s such a fascinating character, more so because readers spend no time in her head. We see her as everyone sees her, as an enigma with the only explanations being the ones that come from her. As much as Leo loves her, he never totally knows her.

Stargirl has stayed with me since I read it ten years ago. I’ve seen pictures of girls who have gotten tattoos of Stargirl’s iconic signature (as seen on the cover). She was a powerful influence over girls of my generation, who were eleven or twelve when this book was published, and on the verge of figuring out who we were. There’s a sequel to this book, Love, Stargirl, but I haven’t read it; I’m afraid of it ruining the magic of the original. Stargirl is filled with mystery, love, and the struggles of growing up and finding yourself. Combined with Ella Enchanted, these two perspectives on life and love and relationships have helped define my view of love.

-Jane Granville