[Book & Adaptation Review] Stargirl by Jerri Spinelli

“Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out–under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes–for Leo and for the entire school. After 15 years of home schooling, Stargirl bursts into tenth grade in an explosion of color and a clatter of ukulele music, enchanting the Mica student body.

But the delicate scales of popularity suddenly shift, and Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her.

In a celebration of nonconformity, Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the fleeting, cruel nature of popularity–and the thrill and inspiration of first love.” – Goodreads

4/5 Stars

First Impressions

Stargirl airs on Disney Plus on March 13, 2020. I’m a little late to the party, but this is the reason that I picked up the book. I’ve heard of Jerri Spinelli before, but I’ve never read his work. I’m not much of a mid-grade reader, but I will read them if they’re good books.

Grace Vanderwaal is in the adaptation and I love her so much. From that moment, I was dedicated to reading this book. After reading the first few pages, I was shocked. I was not expecting this novel to be about a high school upperclassman. I thought it was legit mid-grade fiction, and it is… but because it’s about high school life, it could go either way.

Main Elements

Plot & Theme. I think the plot and theme go hand in hand in this case. The plot is centered around a quirky sophomore in high school, as she continues to be herself. That’s pretty much the plot. I story line is linear and simple: Stargirl is weird and she gets lightly bullied for it, and then pressured to be someone she’s not. She ultimately returns to being herself. That’s the plot.

I think the real question here, though, is what is the theme? Readers all over can appreciate her forwardness and fearlessness. She is not scared to be herself. She doesn’t care what people think, but not in the badass way, I-don’t-care way. In the innocent, questioning way. She doesn’t understand why people don’t like her.

Characters. The characterization is everything in Stargirl. I think it’s amazing that this book is told from Leo’s perspective, whom is not the main character. Stargirl is our main character and we never get a peek inside her head. We see her from the outside. Leo is Stargirl’s boyfriend and we see what he sees: a loving, caring, wonderful girl, whom is weird.

I love that we see the story from Leo’s perspective, because it proves Spinelli’s point. I firmly believe he’s trying to tell us that even if you’re Stargirl-level weird, it’s okay to be you. If we were in Stargirl’s head, we never would be able to see what that outsider does. The point is don’t judge a book by its cover, but the punchline is… we had to judge her by her cover because we didn’t have a choice.

Setting. I loved the setting because it took me back home. I grew up in Arizona. I don’t miss the desert or the cacti, but I liked recognizing where everything is and understanding the landscape that Spinelli described, which was absolutely accurate.

An Extra Something

I don’t give extra somethings often in my book reviews, simply because I can’t think of anything that I can do to honor the book I read. I did think of something to honor Stargirl.

Stargirl is an odd character, but I love her. She’s quirky and weird, but she has a lot of wholesome ideas and habits. One of these is emptying her change purse, because change is so “jangly.” She drops pennies on the ground: “’Did you ever see a little kid’s face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?’” She drops quarters and nickels in the street, left on benches or shelves.

I thought, I could do that to honor the book.

So, I did. I went on a walk after finishing this book, specifically to drop change in places. I thought it would be weird to take pictures of it, seeing as one of Stargirl’s wholesome personality traits is that she doesn’t seek out recognition for the things she does.

Reason for Rating

I rated it Stargirl 4/5 stars because I felt as though the plot could’ve been a little thicker. Stargirl is a wonderful book about self-discovery and the true meaning behind self-love with a powerful theme and strong characterization. Pick this one up if you need an easy read with a good message.

For Teachers

Stargirl has been taught in classrooms for ages, so I’m not going to pretend that this is a new idea. Despite it being done hundreds of times by hundreds of different teachers, teach this book to your kids. It’s an easy read (I read it in a day over Spring Break) and packs a powerful punch regarding believing in yourself and judging others for being themselves.

Grades: According to Amazon, 7th to 9th grade, but I think you could teach it younger. I would suggest 5th – 10th.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, the first book in the Stargirl series, was published May 14, 2002 by Ember. Spinelli has been writing children’s books since the 80’s; his most recent novel was published in 2017. He’s a great writer and if you liked Stargirl, go check out his website http://www.jerryspinelli.com/newbery_002.htm for teacher materials and more!

Disney Plus Adaptation

3/5 Stars

Stargirl, which was originally written in 2002, was adapted into a Disney Plus film available to stream on March 13, 2020. Considering it was written almost twenty years before the adaptation, I think they did a good job with modernizing it.

Plot Points & Character

It wasn’t the worst adaptation I’ve ever seen, but it definitely wasn’t the best either. They kept a lot of the main plot points the same, but they left a lot out. I think leaving some of the weirdness out of Stargirl’s character affected how the plot was received.

Many of the things Stargirl did in the book are questionable by social law, so she received a lot of hate for the simple things that she thought were right. This made the Hot Seat scene, in the book, much more dramatic compared to its adaptation.

As mentioned before, they left a lot of Stargirl’s weirdness out of the movie, which I can understand why. Some of it won’t translate to film well (cartwheels and backflips on the football field, for example).

Quite a few of Stargirl’s characteristics were implied, but not explained. You can see you dropping change in a scene, but there’s no mention of why she was doing it. There are a lot of conversations that built Stargirl and Leo’s relationship that were left out.

I love Grace Vanderwaal so much, but I didn’t like how much they inserted music into the movie. Yeah, Stargirl sang occasionally, but it wasn’t a drive force of her personality. As far as adaptations go, it wasn’t horrible. However, I think they could’ve done better.


Hi, everyone! I have worked in the field of education since I was nineteen and have a passion for literature. I have five years of experience as a library media specialist (paraprofessional), 2 years as a substitute teacher, and I am currently a general education paraprofessional. I have a Bachelor's in Library Media and Science, which I intend to use to eventually become a youth services librarian. I'm a proud book nerd, writer, gamer, hiker, and baker.

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