If You've Never Read Stargirl — and You Really Should — Here's What Happens
Still buzzing over the trailer for Disney+'s upcoming film adaptation of Stargirl? You may have read Jerry Spinelli's YA novel in high school, but it's just as much of a pager-turner if you're reading it for the first time as an adult. America's Got Talent season 11 winner Grace VanderWaal will be making her acting debut in the upcoming movie, as the titular character. But before you get too excited, let's take a closer look at the novel, which celebrates nonconformity and inspires us all to embrace our differences. Although the movie will be available to stream on March 31, be careful, because this post contains spoilers regarding character relationships and major plots in the book.
Who Is Leo Borlock?
The narrator of the novel, Leo Borlock (played by Graham Verchere in the film), is your average 11th grader at Mica High School. The book begins with a flashback from when his mother placed a newspaper announcement on his 14th birthday describing his obsession with porcupine ties. It all started when his Uncle Peter gifted Leo a porcupine-printed tie as a going-away present when he left Pennsylvania. Not the most common thing to collect, but hey, who are we to judge? A few days later, Leo receives a mysterious package on his front steps. Inside, a porcupine tie.
Who Is Stargirl Caraway?
Stargirl marches to the beat of her own drum, thanks in part to a lifetime of being homeschooled. On the first day of 10th grade at Mica High School, she wears an old-fashioned wedding gown. As the first week of school goes by, Stargirl continues to be the highlight of every conversation on campus. Her wardrobe consists of kimonos, flapper dresses, buckskin, and no makeup. She smiles and greets every face in the hallway, even though she knows no one, and plays her ukulele in the cafeteria every day. Astonishingly, she doesn't care that people are whispering mean things about her.
Stargirl's Rise and Downfall From Popularity
Imagine a barefoot teenager running down the football field with the marching band pretending to be part of the ensemble. That's Stargirl. After proceeding to join the football team in warmup, punting the pigskin, and being threatened by an angry referee to exit the field, she's a crowd favorite. This stunt lands her a spot on the cheerleading squad. As basketball season rolls around, Stargirl takes her cheerleading to a new level. She puts on a welcome cheer for the opposing team and celebrates every basket made, no matter the jersey color. The cheer squad is so furious that they leave Stargirl stranded after an away game.
Stargirl Takes The Hot Seat
Leo knows Stargirl has a crush on him because she told his friend Kevin that she thinks Leo is cute. Trying to protect her feelings after the recent cheerleading events, Leo does everything in his power to avoid scheduling her for an interview on his local cable show, The Hot Seat, which he hosts with Kevin. He fails. The Hot Seat is made up of six jurors who can ask nosy and embarrassing questions as long as they're not mean-spirited. Basically, it's the perfect recipe for some classic high-school bullying.
Stargirl is bombarded with remarks like: "What's wrong with your name? Your parents must hate you," "You must be from Mars," "Traitor," "You're acting like this just to get attention," "Dumb cluck," and "Why can't you just be normal?" Faculty advisor Mr. Robineau shuts down the interview and destroys the tape. A few days later, Stargirl is kicked off the cheerleading squad.
A Romance Quickly Begins
Soon after The Hot Seat, Leo finds an old Valentine's Day card in his notebook that reads "I LOVE YOU." The following days, Stargirl makes a point to say "hi" every time she walks past Leo's lunch table. He finally musters up the courage to go talk to her. They spend the night talking in the dark, and the next morning, Leo wakes up with an overwhelming feeling of love for Stargirl.
Their dates consist of playing games in the mall, leaving loose change behind for others to find, and anonymously making homemade gifts and cards for strangers. She confesses that the porcupine necktie he received years ago was from her.
Leo Cannot Love Stargirl For Who She Really Is
Leo becomes so blinded by his love for Stargirl that he doesn't realize that he too is now being isolated by the entire high school. He begins to ignore Stargirl but eventually breaks down and shares that he doesn't want to be shunned by everyone anymore. He tells her that in order for them to be a successful couple, Stargirl needs to conform to society. Stargirl trades in her quirky wardrobe for designer clothes and begins going by Susan, her birth name. Their dates change from doing acts of kindness to going out for a slice of pizza and a movie.
Stargirl realizes how unhappy she is with Leo coaching her to be like everyone else. She tells him she understands that he can't love her for who she really is and that it's OK if he doesn't want her to be his date to the upcoming Ocotillo Ball.
Stargirl Embraces Her Inner Self
Leo decides not to go to the dance but hides in the bushes to catch a glimpse of Stargirl when she arrives. She rolls up in a bicycle sidecar that is not only covered in flowers but also has a 10-foot flower veil. Even though Stargirl is solo at the dance, she has the time of her life on the dance floor. Before too long, she's leading a dance-line to the song "The Bunny Hop." Rules of "The Bunny Hop" state that everyone must follow the leader's dance moves. Stargirl waddles like a penguin, walks on her tippy toes, and roams around like a vampire . . . and everyone follows her lead. Hillari Kimble, the school bully, waltzes up to Stargirl during the dance-line, exclaims that Stargirl ruins everything, then slaps her face. Stargirl responds with a peck on Hillari's cheek and leaves.
No one from school ever sees Stargirl again — including Leo.
The Epilogue of Stargirl
Leo shares he hasn't been to any high-school reunions but still keeps in touch with a few classmates. He daydreams of where Stargirl is, what name she goes by now, and if he'll ever see her again. He still drops change on the sidewalk for others to find. Leo doesn't feel lonely, but more like someone is watching out for him. He received a mysterious package last month; inside was a porcupine tie.