by Jerry Spinelli
Leo Leo Leo. We may love our narrator and protagonist, but sometimes he makes it pretty hard. At the start of the novel, he's your average high school junior. But by the end of the novel, he has become something quite different, and it's all thanks to his super awesome, quirky-to-the-max girlfriend, Stargirl.
When Stargirl arrives on the scene, he becomes fascinated with her and eventually becomes her boyfriend. Overall, he seems like a good person, but like most people, he has his weaknesses. One of his weaknesses is that he is influenced by what other people think of him. This causes him to have a big internal conflict, or a difficult decision to make. Even though he really digs Stargirl, he decides that she needs to change so other people will like her, and as a result, like him again, too. The results of his decision lead him to feel regret, but he is not devastated. He is hopeful that eventually they may cross paths again.
Leo and his Love of the Unusual
Well before Stargirl appears on the scene, Leo shows his true colors and makes a fan out of Shmoop. How? Well, he tells us that he likes porcupine ties, which gives him some individuality. We also know that he's a big fan of the neighborhood's resident old goofball, Archie. This guy is definitely unusual, so Leo is no stranger to the weird.
Perhaps, then, it really shouldn't surprise us that Leo is interested in Stargirl. Almost instantly, Leo is attracted to Stargirl, and we careful readers know this even before he does: "And each night in bed I thought of her as the moon came through my window." The poor kid doesn't understand why he keeps thinking about her, but we do. Our boy's in love. He'll figure it out soon enough.
And figure it out he does. What's so great about Leo's affection for Stargirl is it shows that he's a quirky guy himself. He may not want to admit it, but he relishes Stargirl's strangeness, even asking himself, "Was I myself becoming goofy?"
Oh, and you know what else he loves about his girl? She's kind. In fact, she is just about the best person in school. Leo's fondness for her should tell us that he's a pretty good person, too.
Leo and the Little Angel on his Shoulder
For the most part, our Leo does seem like a good guy. For one thing, he has a strong internal sense of what is right and wrong. We see this a couple of times in the novel, such as when, deep down, he knows that they should not put Stargirl on the television show "Hot Seat." He realizes that Stargirl is special, and they should "leave her alone."
But then, he backtracks and lets her go on. What's that all about? Well, in some ways, it's just further proof of Leo's goodness. In fact, at this moment, he earns some serious points in Shmoop's book. He lets her on the show because he has noticed that Stargirl seems to be inspiring people to embrace their own differences, and he really appreciates that. He seems to like the fact that there's hope for all these conformist high schoolers after all. Maybe, just maybe, they'll embrace their inner quirk. (Of course this turns out to be very untrue, but we'll get to that.)
As Leo's relationship with Stargirl develops, he, too, develops some of his more favorable traits. He becomes more open to learning and experiencing new things. For example, he honestly tries to "erase" himself in meditation when they visit Stargirl's enchanted place in the desert. He becomes somewhat of a sidekick for his girlfriend when she goes on her missions to commit random acts of kindness. He also plays her "card" game at the mall.
With Stargirl's help, Leo becomes more observant of the beautiful common things around him, like ants carrying things across the road or an old man sitting on a bench. In fact, Leo and Stargirl have a wonderful time all the time. So why don't they end up together in the end, romantic comedy style?
To answer that question, we'll have to look at some of Leo's less appealing traits.
Leo the Lion (You Know, the Cowardly Kind?)
We hate to do this, but we're just going to come right out and say it: Leo is a coward. We know, we know, Shmoop isn't one for name-calling. But this time, we swear it's justified. Just look at the way he treats Stargirl.
To be fair Leo really likes the girl. But he's too afraid to act on his feelings. So what does he do? He follows her after school, stalker-style in Chapter 3. Even when she catches him in her own driveway, he continues to hide behind the car. These are not the actions of a bold, brave boy. And they foreshadow his future cowardly acts.
Even when he overcomes his shyness and finally strikes up a relationship with Stargirl, he continues to be a bit of a coward. Only this time, he's not afraid of what Stargirl thinks of him. He's afraid of everyone else. Remember that moment, in Chapter 30, when he observes Stargirl and Dori playing their ukuleles out in the courtyard? Leo just stands idly by while the two of them are ostracized. Deep down he really wants to support her, but he can't quite bring himself to do so.
Or what about when he is embarrassed by Stargirl's bulletin board declaration of love? Or when he asks Stargirl to change her appearance and behavior so he won't be humiliated by dating her? Time and again, Leo proves that he is afraid of the masses' opinion, afraid of their viewing him negatively. What's so sad about this is that in the end, that fear causes him to treat Stargirl poorly, and eventually dump her. His loss.
Leo, Killer of Stargirl
But first, he tries to have his cake and eat it, too. Leo tells Stargirl that in order to stay together, she must change. He tells her, "I think you should try to be more like the rest of us" (25.47). When Stargirl asks him why, he flat-out tells her "because nobody likes you" (25.53).
Dude, that's just cold. But you can't really say that Leo doesn't mean well. After all, he is just trying to make things easier on the two of them. Still, "nobody likes you" is not the way to win a girl's heart.
Of course when Stargirl does change—into Susan—Leo is over-the-moon happy about it. He's thrilled to help Susan learn to be normal. And when the plan ultimately fails and Stargirl goes back to her good old-fashioned self, Leo is mad. It seems that old cowardice, that old fear of not fitting in is still there, doing a number on Leo's emotions, causing him to value the opinions of others over his love for his girl.
But we can't just write Leo off as a wimp, a conformist, or even a jerk. He's our protagonist after all, and he has plenty of redeeming qualities. Think about the moment when Stargirl-turned-Susan gives her competition-winning speech in Chapter 28. The speech is Stargirl, through and through. It contains all the quirks of our favorite speechmaker, plus the wisdom Leo has come to associate with her, too. And at the end of her speech, Leo sobs. We mean, he sobs.
He's genuinely proud of his girlfriend. She has won, and she did so by being herself – by giving a speech only Stargirl could give. Deep down, we think he knows this, and maybe, just maybe, he's crying because he's proud of his girlfriend, in all her unique glory. Or maybe, just maybe, he's crying because he knows he has stifled that very same uniqueness. Then again, it's possible he just had some allergies.
In the end, we can't help but sympathize with Leo, despite all his mistakes. He must have really loved Stargirl, if he still thinks about her, fifteen years later. And in the end, that's what really matters. Perhaps it's only all these years later that a now mature Leo can look back and understand what Stargirl truly meant to him.Timeline