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by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl Caraway

Character Analysis

Here's a heads up: much of this novel is an attempt to define Stargirl, and therein lies the problem. This is a girl who absolutely cannot be boxed in, pigeonholed, or tied up with a pretty little bow. She's a free spirit, a "rare bird" (according to Archie), and she defies definition in every sense of the word. Even fifteen years after the end of the book's main action, Leo, our protagonist, is still trying to suss her out.

So we've got quite the task ahead of us. Nevertheless, Shmoop is here to help. We'll highlight some of her most important characteristics, just to get those brain juices flowing. Then, maybe you can come up with your own idea of just who this girl is.

Stargirl, the Unwitting Rebel

From the beginning, Stargirl is a fish out of water. She's the new girl at school, and that means she has a tough crowd to please. She doesn't quite understand all the unwritten rules that Mica's high school has, so she goes right along, doing her own thing.

And by doing her own thing, we mean singing "Happy Birthday" to strangers, cheering people for picking up litter, performing impromptu halftime shows at the football games, and the like. Stargirl does all of these things and a whole lot more, because she is either unaware of these unwritten rules, or she simply doesn't care to follow them.

No matter which way you hack it, our girl is a total rebel, even if she doesn't intend to be. She does things her own way, and most of the time, she doesn't seem all that concerned about whether or not people think she's strange.

Take, for example, her insistence on cheering for the opposite team during basketball games. After a while, it's pretty clear that the entire school can't stand the fact that she does this. Even when people scream at her to "Siddown!" Leo tells us that "she did not seem to notice" (11.19-20).

Stargirl, the Teacher

While her nonconformity tends to put people off, once they do get to know her, they're sure to learn a lot. In the words of dear old Archie, "She seems to be in touch with something that the rest of us are missing" (19.32).

Leo, for one, learns a great deal from her in their time together. She's a natural teacher, even though it doesn't ever seem to be her intention to teach. It just comes to her naturally. One way she does this is by pointing out all the little things that she notices. She points out the beauty of an old man sitting on a bench, some struggling ants, and the fact that a neighborhood man repaints his door all the time. By pointing these things out to Leo, she's not giving him a lesson in the traditional sense. Instead she's just sharing her own curiosity with him, which allows Leo to explore his own curiosity. Through her observations, he comes to the important realization that before Stargirl, he "walked in a gray world of nothings" (20.13).

Stargirl, the Victim of Bullying

Stargirl is so totally awesome that it's hard to think of her as a victim at all. But let's face it: everywhere she goes in high school, insults and tomatoes are thrown at her, and she even gets slapped by Mica's resident mean girl. It's clear from early on that the entire school (possibly including Leo at times) acts like one giant bully towards our girl. Leo says it best: "Classrooms, hallways, courtyard, lunchroom—everywhere I went I heard her disparaged, mocked, slurred."

It is the way she reacts to the bullying that speaks a lot about who she is as a person. You see, she flat out doesn't notice. In this sense, Stargirl is the opposite of your stereotypical teenager. She is not at all wrapped up in herself and what people think of her. She is just too busy being compassionate towards the very same people who treat her like dirt.

In fact, Stargirl doesn't seem worried about the fact that she doesn't have many friends. When Leo tries to talk to her about the fact that everyone in school has shunned her, she explains that the fact that he and Dori talk to her is enough. To Stargirl, it is much more important to have a few good, close friends than to be popular.

Looking at it that way, you could make the argument that Stargirl is not a victim at all. Sure, she's bullied, but she doesn't let it bring her down. She goes right on being "the friendliest person in the school" (3.33).

Stargirl Connects with the Universe

We know that Stargirl sticks out like a sore thumb at school, but it's not until she takes Leo to her enchanted place that we find out why. As she leads Leo in meditation, she says, "The thing is, there's no difference anymore between me and the universe. The boundary is gone. I am it and it is me. I am a stone, a cactus thorn. I am rain" (17.90).

See, Stargirl is too busy being part of the universe to worry about being part of the popular group in high school. And in Chapter 25, when Leo confronts her about her not fitting in, she is most horrified by his claim that she is "not connected." Of course Leo is talking about the fact that she is not connected to her classmates. But if she is not connected to them, does this mean that she is not connected to the world, too? After all, her classmates are part of the universe, just maybe not the kindest part.

We see her connection to the universe pop up again and again, but it's Archie who finally explains where it comes from: she is a star person.

"Star people are rare," Archie tells us, and then he goes on to explain. In the beginning, stars "supplied the ingredients that became us, the primordial elements. We are star stuff […] And I think every once in a while someone comes along who is a little more primitive than the rest of us, a little closer to our beginnings, a little more in touch with the stuff we're made of" (32.17-23).

Strictly speaking, Archie is being completely scientifically accurate here. Or at least he is according to everyone's favorite scientist, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. That someone to whom Archie is referring in this case, is Stargirl. The reason she's so connected to the universe is that she's somehow closer to our beginnings as stars. She hasn't forgotten, like the rest of us.

This connection to the universe also connects her to other people, just maybe not those at her high school. It explains why she does seemingly kooky things like attend a stranger's funeral or send a young boy a bicycle (or another young boy a porcupine tie). She's not being nosy, or phony. She's just being compassionate, and on a deeper level than most.

Since Stargirl sees herself and everyone as a member of the world's group, or a member of the universe if you will, she doesn't understand why people wouldn't be happy when anyone, specifically the opposite team, would make a basket. When someone does something great, she feels happy for that person, no matter who it is. When someone feels pain, she feels that person's pain, too. The truth is, she feels like she knows them, even if she technically has never met them before. It's a little thing called empathy, and Stargirl has got it in spades.

Stargirl's Choice

Like it or not, Stargirl faces one significant choice in the novel: should she try to fit in, or remain true to herself, in all her awesomely quirky glory? It's a tricky situation for Stargirl. Should she change herself to help Leo, who desperately wants her to? Or should she remain who she is and risk losing him? Either way, someone gets hurt.

For a while, it seems like she chooses to fit in. She kicks Stargirl to the curb and becomes Susan, the normal girl. But both she and Leo quickly realize that the endeavor was doomed from the start. When she returns as the State champion orator and still no one likes her, Susan gives up trying to be something that she is not. She accepts the fact that Leo will not accept her for who she is, and she attends the ball by herself and ends up having a great time. She even somehow becomes popular again.

Hmm. That's interesting. It seems like Stargirl gained popularity early in the novel for the very reason that eventually led to her downfall: her strangeness. But then, that very same strangeness makes her popular yet again, even if it's only just for the night of the Ocotillo ball.

And popular she remains. After she disappears, Stargirl clearly has a lasting impact on both Leo and the Mica community. New traditions begin at the high school, and Leo and the others remember Stargirl with more fondness than hatred. Perhaps it wasn't Stargirl's quirks that were the problem (are you listening, Leo?). Maybe Mica was the problem. The town just wasn't ready for a star person until it was too late.