by Jerry Spinelli
AR Level 4.2, 6 points
Stargirl is a new student in a small high school in Mica, Arizona, a close-knit town where all students know each other, and it is normal to be normal. Leo is a not popular, not unpopular boy known for being like everyone else. The author makes a point of describing how everyone fits in, because they are all the same. No one stands out, the sports teams aren”t good or bad… everything is just average. Until Stargirl arrives, that is. Previously home schooled, Stargirl stands out in her pioneer girl dresses, sunflower canvas lunch bag, and flower on her desk. She serenades people on their birthdays and leaves holiday treats on her classmates’ desks. Her sudden popularity earns her a spot as a cheerleader, but that goes from bad to worse. We see what it is like to be a unique person in an utterly average setting. Leo, the protagonist, falls in love with Stargirl’s whimsical nature, but fights with his “need” to be like everyone else. We follow Stargirl through Leo’s eyes, for better and for worse.
What I liked about this book was that we get to see what it is like for Stargirl from another point of view. Leo sees Stargirl’s eccentricities and appreciates them, but also takes them for granted. We often come into contact with unusual people we may find embarrassing or fascinating, so we can relate to Leo. I think it is an important message, either choosing to be ourselves or choosing to fit in. I remember the frustrations of wanting to be like everyone else (which I was not). I tried to wear my hair in a certain way, buy clothes like everyone else’s, and even listen to their music. I still struggle with wanting to fit in instead of accepting who I am. As much as I want to say I accept myself for who I am, there are always little twinges of emotion. I would like to say that if I were in Leo’s position, I would accept Stargirl for who she was and give everyone else the middle finger, but that probably isn’t how it would go.
What I didn’t like about this book was how mean people can be, especially teenagers (although I am WELL AWARE that this goes on throughout adulthood… mean girls don’t always grow up). I thought that since this was a short book, it would be a quick and easy read to help me catch up in my reading challenge. However, it took me almost a week. There is more meat to this story than meets the eye. Reading it reminded me of Stand By Me or Sandlot (without the funny parts), in that I could hear Leo narrating the story and talking about the girl he used to know. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Book 32 of 52
Counting By 7s (hardcover)
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
AR Level 5.6, 10 points
This is the story of a girl named Willow. She is clearly different from her peers (I’m assuming the author looked up autism or Aspergers syndrome to do research). Willow is in the genius range, and is fascinated by medical conditions (especially skin ailments), gardening, and the number 7. She has skills in rebuilding computers, financial planning and organization, and knowledge in general. The story begins when she starts seeing a counselor, Dell Duke, after being accused of cheating on a test. Dell is an underachieving, overweight, and unmotivated human being who does as little as possible to get by. Everyone’s world is turned upside down when Willow’s parents die in a car accident (not a spoiler- we learn this almost immediately). Willow is taken in by Mai’s mother and brother. Mai’s brother is also a student of Dell’s, and we see changes in all of the characters as Willow’s story is told. Each character finds the goodness in another character, and as they learn and grow from their experiences, we also learn and grow from hearing Willow’s story. Spoiler Alert: there are several situations that caused my eyes to fill up with tears, and it wasn’t a book allergy.
What I liked about this book was that it is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, and there are no evil characters in this story. Everyone reveals the good in them, which far overpowers the bad qualities. I think it is refreshing to read a book where all of the characters become better and reveal a positive influence. I also appreciated that although Willow is clearly “different” from other middle school students, no one really makes fun of her. The author hints that she does things that might make people tease her, but the teasing isn’t made obvious in the story. Bullying is not the point of a book about a unique personality.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it is really sad at parts! I cannot imagine losing parents at such a young age, and being a parent myself, it is hard for me to imagine the pain my children would feel without me. I can handle books about death, but for some reason, the pain of losing a parent or a child is overwhelming. It has a wonderful message, however, and despite the sad parts, it is worth the read.
Book 31 of 52
by Rainbow Rowell
AR Level 3.9, 15 points
Fangirl is the story of Cather and her freshman year of college. She and her twin, Wren, are opposites in many ways. Wren loses herself in alcohol and maintains an ongoing fight throughout much of the story, while Cath finds solace in her writing, primarily in writing her fanfic of a popular series about Simon Snow (think Harry Potter). Cath has thousands of hits on Carry On, and while she is an English major and a talented writer, she has a hard time writing anything but her fanfic novel. Along the way, she becomes good friends her her scary roommate and a boy named Levi. Her manic father has a breakdown, her estranged mother comes back into her life, and her writing partner takes credit for the writing she contributed to. In the end, all is right with the world. It has a happy ending, not completely unexpected, but with a few surprises here and there.
What I liked about this book was the character description. Rowell puts so much emphasis on her characters’ clothing and hairstyles, it’s like you can see them before you. Before I (like a true fangirl) google imaged the characters, I had a clear picture of what they looked like and who would play them in the movie version (if there was one). It reminded me of when I was younger and wrote my own stories (loosely based on the characters of The Babysitters’ Club). I let my mom read a story once, and she told me she there was more description of the character’s appearance than the rest of the story. Luckily, Rowell isn’t that obsessive, and she wrote well-developed characters, beyond their appearances.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t Eleanor & Park. This story took me nearly a month, whereas E&P took me a day. Yes, it was longer (twice as long, maybe), but it just didn’t hold my attention. In some places, the Carry On and the Simon Snow novel paralleled Cath’s life, but I didn’t always catch on to that. There were sections with several pages of 8 point font where Cath was reading her own fanfic. I liked Harry Potter, but that’s not typically my genre. I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, but I was also happy when it was over. It dragged on, and I’m ready for a couple fast reads to catch up on my challenge!
Book 30 of 52