Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Stargirl

Go To

Stargirl is a middle grade novel by Jerry Spinelli, published in 2000. Set in Mica Area High School in Mica, Arizona, the novel follows the story of the sophomore Susan "Stargirl" Caraway, narrated from the perspective of junior Leo Borlock. Stargirl quickly proves herself the most unusual student to ever come to Mica High; she utterly shuns conformity, wearing peculiar clothes —Native American buckskin, 1920s flapper outfits— and refusing makeup, carrying around her pet rat, dancing in the rain, decorating her desk with a tablecloth and flower, singing "Happy Birthday" to absolutely everyone, and cheering for both teams at games. The school has no idea what to make of her. Meanwhile, Leo finds himself falling for her.

Stargirl is, after a time, accepted by the school, and other students begin mimicking her. Many break free from the conformity that had held the school before. This, however, does not last; during the basketball season, Stargirl's insistence on cheering for the other team as well angers her classmates, and she is eventually shunned by the school. The novel then follows Leo's conflict between his relationship with Stargirl, and the peer pressure of his classmates.

A sequel, Love, Stargirl was released in 2007.

Disney produced a live-action film adaptation that came out in 2020 on Disney+. It has its own page.

Not to be confused with the member of the Justice Society of America or its by the same name nor its (coincidentally timed and similarly distributed) 2020 television adaptation on DC Universe.

This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: When Stargirl becomes a cheerleader, she cheers for both the Mica basketball team and the opposing team, which turns more or less everyone against her. The Mica team eventually loses to Glendale, and Stargirl is blamed and shunned amongst the student body. Since Leo hangs out with her, he's on the receiving end of the treatment as well, at least until he breaks up with her.
  • Alpha Bitch: Popular girl Hillari Kimble, sans the Girl Posse. Her Establishing Character Moment is her dangling Cinnamon (Star's rat) over the school bannister for no real reason at all besides to be an asshole.
  • Anchovies Are Abhorrent: When Stargirl is trying to be more "normal" so that her peers will like her again, she goes to a pizza place with her boyfriend Leo. She orders pizza with anchovies, and he tells her that nobody likes anchovies. Her response is to pick all the anchovies off the pizza and dump them in her glass of water.
    Stargirl: I don't want to be like nobody.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: During the Hot Seat interview, a juror asks Stargirl why she meddles in everyone's lives whether she's asked to or not. Stargirl doesn't have an answer.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Stargirl only has one rat. It's very recommended that people have at least two rats because they're extremely social. She also carries around her rat in her backpack, which is dangerous.
  • Barefoot Loon: Stargirl invokes this, when she's dancing barefoot with the cheerleaders.
  • Belated Happy Ending: Love, Stargirl has Stargirl finally finding her place in a new town and people who genuinely love her for who she is. The only sour note is she still has feelings for Leo when he hasn't even bothered to follow up with her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stargirl has since dropped out of the school after the dance and moves away to Minnesota. But she leaves a lasting impression on many of the people from Mica, all of whom do things which honor her memory.
  • Blithe Spirit: Stargirl.
  • Book Ends: The book begins and finishes with Leo receiving a porcupine necktie for his birthday.
  • Break the Cutie: Attempted. Stargirl is nothing but kind in both books, yet she still endures teasing from all her peers, to the point where she makes herself miserable trying to fit in.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: At the beginning, most of Stargirl's classmates look at her as this.
  • Cool Old Guy: Archie. He's a retired paleontologist who loves teaching, and is constantly imparting wisdom or sharing neat trivia with the neighborhood kids, to the point that Leo describes Archie's house as the best school ever. He's also one of the only characters who even come close to "getting" Stargirl.
  • Closer to Earth: People like Stargirl are apparently more like this, but not in the traditional sense of the trope.
  • Cuckoosnarker: Stargirl appears to be a Wide-Eyed Idealist, but she has her snarky moments, such as when she explains to the protagonist why he was following her around:
    Stargirl: You were smitten with me. You were speechless to behold my beauty. You had never met anyone so fascinating. You thought of me every waking minute. You dreamed about me. You couldn’t stand it. You couldn’t let such wonderfulness out of your sight. You had to follow me.
  • Deconstruction: Of Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Blithe Spirit, by showing how people in a realistic setting would react and treat one, and how even The Power of Love has its limits through Leo ultimately breaking up with her.
  • The Determinator:
    • The handheld close-up camera, "Chico," used in the filming of Hot Seat is named such because a student named Chico, when he tried out to be a camera operator but wasn't strong enough to carry the heavy camera, lifted weights for an entire year until he had enough muscles for the job.
    • Stargirl herself never gives up on trying to make people happy, no matter how terrible things get for her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Stargirl is made a pariah because the school loses a basketball game. Granted, it's the state championship, but at the end of the day, it's just a basketball game. (Of course, it's a little more complicated than that, since much of the story is about how society reacts to people who are unashamedly themselves — weirdness and all.)
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue takes place 15 years later.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Stargirl is this to the main character, teaching him many things (including meditating Zen-style). A rare female, young, Love Interest example of the trope.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Stargirl's popularity is at the lowest it's ever been, some students start believing that she only does so many kind things in order to make them feel guilty that they're not as altruistic and all-loving as her.
  • Exact Words: Hillari Kimble warns Stargirl not to sing to her on her birthday. Stargirl doesn't sing to her...she sings the song to Leo.
  • Fix Fic: Oddly enough, the sequel is a Licensed Example as it effectively retcons away the Distant Finale the first book provided, ending on a massive Hope Spot for the reunion of Leo and Stargirl.
  • A Friend in Need: By the end of the novel, Dori and, to some extent, Kevin (but mostly Dori) are the only ones who don't shun Stargirl.
  • Friendless Background: Stargirl starts out this way, both from being the new girl in school and just being her usual weird self.
  • Hidden Depths: Stargirl can get a lot more depressed than you'd think she would. It’s just rarely ever for herself.
  • Hippie Name: "Stargirl" Caraway is a free-spirited sophomore who wears floor-length peasant dresses and ribbons in her hair, plays the ukulele during lunch, and carries around her pet rat Cinnamon in a sunflower-print tote bag. She reveals to Leo that she gave herself the name along with a series of other failed self-renames.
  • I Have Many Names: One of Stargirl's quirks is that she changes her preferred name whenever she feels it doesn't fit. Previously, she has been Pocket Mouse, Mudpie, and Hullygully.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Possibly Stargirl's only real character flaw. Giving your boyfriend a valentine's? Nothing out of the ordinary. Making said valentine a public declaration of your love for him while both of you are being shunned by the entire student body? He's so embarrassed that he doesn't talk to her for the whole day. She also sings "Happy Birthday" to every person in the school on their birthdays, embarrassing them all because Stargirl never asked their permission or considered that they might not like it. Leo notes to himself that he's glad his birthday is in the summer so it wouldn't happen to him.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The entire student body does some serious mental gymnastics to blame Stargirl for the basketball team losing the State Championships.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. While Hillari Kimble doesn't really get punished per se, at the climax of the book she has to watch Stargirl lead the promgoers in the bunny hop dance. This wouldn't really be a punishment for anyone else, but since it's Hillari, who's the premier Alpha Bitch of the school, not having control of the student body probably counts as one.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Leo shuns Stargirl and breaks up with her. After she drops out, he realizes that he misses her. It takes fifteen years for him to get a hint that she has forgiven him for dumping her due to peer pressure, by sending a quirky gift anonymously. Plus, he hasn't bothered to try and find her, and the sequel shows her trying to move on from him.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: The sane, but the extremely quirky titular heroine is literally the kindest and most pure-hearted character in the novel, making her classmates look like jerks in comparison (the protagonist even jokingly tells her that she's "running for saint").
  • Love Cannot Overcome: Leo's and Stargirl's relationship doesn't work out because he can't take being endlessly shunned by the student body along with her. She can keep herself afloat on her boundless optimism and naivete, but he can't.
  • Maybe Ever After: The novel ends with Leo hoping he and Stargirl will meet again, and with him getting an anonymous birthday gift that almost certainly came from Stargirl, fifteen years later. Not happily-ever-after, per se, but certainly hopeful.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: The cover has nothing on it but a childlike scribble of a star and a female stick figure, which Stargirl uses to sign a card she writes for Leo.
  • Nonconformist Dyed Hair: When the MAHS students are inspired by Stargirl to express their individualities in a multitude of ways, one example mentioned is a boy who dyes his hair purple.
  • Noodle Incident: Stargirl has a "happy wagon," a little toy wagon that she puts pebbles into when she's happy and removes pebbles from when she's sad. When Leo asks how low the pebble count ever got, she reveals that once, it went down to three, but doesn't tell the story of why that happened.
  • No Social Skills: In a way, Stargirl doesn't have them. She means well, of course, but she's so sheltered from being homeschooled that she doesn't understand that how she does things (like showing up at a stranger's funeral or singing "Happy Birthday" to random students on their birthdays) pushes some boundaries.
  • Never Say "Die": The last chapter heavily implies that Archie passed away during the fifteen-year time skip. Archie himself seems fairly aware that his time is running short as one of the last things Leo and Archie do in the main story is bury Barney, the 60-million-year-old rodent skull Archie is particularly fond of.
  • The Nondescript: Wayne Parr doesn't have any noticeable traits, interests, or hobbies besides being handsome and also being Hillari's boyfriend. Still, he's the most popular boy at school, which seems to be a reflection on how collectively shallow the MAHS student body is.
  • The One That Got Away: At the end what Stargirl ends up becoming for Leo.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: After Leo tries to get her to act "more normal", Stargirl starts going by "Susan"
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: What ends up as Leo's Fatal Flaw is his inability to cope with everyone's opinion on himself and on Stargirl.
  • P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl: Leo is the protagonist, but it's Stargirl who sets the plot going. In the sequel, Love, Stargirl, this is inverted.
  • Quirky Ukulele: The quirky Stargirl carries around a ukulele and plays it in public, even when it's inappropriate.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The last thing Leo and Archie do together is drive out to the desert and bury Barney, the ancient rodent's skull. Archie writes a single word on a scrap of paper that he buries with Barney, and Leo never finds out what it is.
  • Sage Love Interest: The titular character becomes sort of an Eccentric Mentor for the protagonist. She teaches him many things, like meditating Zen style, and has a profound impact on his life.
  • Stepford Smiler: Stargirl, of all people has a tendency to become one when she's sad.
  • Stunned Silence: The only reaction that Susan, her parents, and Leo can muster after she wins the speaking competition and returns to the school, finding no one there to celebrate with her except a few teachers and Dori.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: It's fine to do nice things for people. But if you don't consider how others might react to your actions, the consequences can be disastrous. Stargirl is a genuinely kind and loving person who devotes herself to making other people happier, but between having been homeschooled her entire life and her Cloudcuckoolander attitude, she doesn't understand how the real world works. And it hits her hard:
    • She sings "Happy Birthday" to every person in the school on their birthdays; several people get embarrassed. Leo notes to himself that he's glad his birthday is in the summer.
    • A senior girl's grandfather dies and the family holds a funeral for him. Stargirl is not invited because the family doesn't know her, but she shows up anyway to pay tribute to him. The mother angrily tells her to leave.
      Jennifer St. John: You meddle into everybody’s business. You stick your nose in, whether you’re invited or not. Why do you do that?
    • A boy named Danny has a bike accident and has to spend a week in the hospital. When he comes home, a new bike is anonymously donated by Stargirl to the family. Danny's mother refuses to let him keep it because she's afraid of letting him ride a bike again, so the new bike gets thrown in the trash.
    • Perhaps the most damning of all: When Stargirl becomes a cheerleader, she cheers for both her school's basketball team and the other team. As a result, the other cheerleaders and eventually the entire school ostracize her, calling her a traitor. When the team loses a crucial game and its chance to win the championship, the school unanimously blames her, with the team captain stating that seeing her cheer for the other team took the heart out of him.
    • When you do something that makes you universally hated, it's very difficult (if not outright impossible) to get your reputation back. Stargirl tries dressing and acting like a normal girl to fit in with the other students, but they still shun her because it doesn't make them forget what she did. Even winning the championship speaking contest doesn't restore her popularity. After receiving her award, she returns to the school expecting a grand homecoming parade, like the previous year's winner got, but all she finds waiting for her are a few teachers and her only remaining friend carrying a cardboard sign.
    • One of the only people to stick by Stargirl while she's being shunned is her boyfriend, Leo. They are genuinely in love and enjoy their time together. But since Leo is Stargirl's boyfriend, he gets shunned along with her, and it hurts him. Does he decide that she is worth more than all of them combined? Does he resolve to stick by her, no matter what? No. As much as he loves her, he is not willing to continue being ignored and hated by the entire school just to be with her. Even The Power of Love has its limits.
    • Adding onto that, during Valentine's day Stargirl makes her valentine to Leo as a public declaration of her love for him while both of them are being shunned by the entire student body. He's so embarrassed that he refuses to talk to her for the whole day.
    • Likewise, it turns out Stargirl is not the type to go Easily Forgiven where love is involved, and her fundamental goodness has limits. Leo dumped her and joined in the others ostracizing her. He then doesn't bother to try and find her when she and her family disappear, only seeing how she impacted the school and maybe having a shred of regret that she's not in his life. Does Stargirl write a letter begging him to take her back? Send an Apology Gift for being Innocently Insensitive? No. In fact, Leo doesn't even know if the gift he receives fifteen years later is from her, or just a coincidence. She writes him out of her new life. The sequel has her admit that the right thing to do would be to move on, because Perry is a genuinely Nice Guy who appreciates her for who she is, and she's conflicted about still having feelings for Leo.
  • Tastes Like Disdain: Even after becoming a pariah at Mica Area High School due to cheering for the opposing team at basketball games, Stargirl continues to do kind things for her classmates. When she passes out smiley-face cookies in the cafeteria, Hillari takes off her shoe and uses it to smash the cookie Stargirl gave her. As Leo is leaving the cafeteria, he sees that the students have all left their cookies behind.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The only exceptions are Leo, Stargirl and Dori Dilson. Everyone else falls into one of two categories: mindless sheep or total douchebag.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Stargirl the Blithe Spirit has a pet rat named Cinnamon who she often carries around.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Stargirl/Susan wins the speech competition, only to find that she's still as shunned as ever when she arrives at the school parking lot with Leo and there's no one there to celebrate with her but Dori Dilson.

Tropes Specifically for Love, Stargirl

  • Anger Born of Worry: After Stargirl is hospitalized for running into a burning house to try and save the people who were in there, Alvina visits her to call her an idiot.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After the events of the first novel, we find out that Star's "happy wagon" (where she keeps her rocks to represent how happy she is) is almost empty.
  • Hidden Depths: As we (and Star) discover, Perry's more than womanizing delinquent, he's actually, a kind and caring guy, who's worried about his family and only resorts to stealing because he doesn't want his mom to worry about feeding him.
  • Hikikomori: Betty Lou hasn't left her house in 9 years. It says something that she leaves her house to attend Stargirl's Winter Solstice party.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Over the course of the book, 16-year old Stargirl befriends a six-year old called Dootsie and an older agoraphobic lady named Betty Lou.
  • Quirky Town: If we take the residents into consideration (specifically Margie and Dootsie), it's not hard to see why Stargirl fits in so well in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
  • Shipping Torpedo: When Archie visits Stargirl for the solstice celebration, he reveals to her that he told Leo she moved to Minnesota instead of Pennsylvania. Although he hasn't been openly berating Leo over his decision at the end of last year to break up with Stargirl, he doesn't think they're good for each other.