I went out and got Love, Stargirl the morning after I’d finished Stargirl. The novel does what readers want a sequel to – it picks up sometime after the close of a story that they were sad to see end – yet offers plenty more.
Part 2 of the Stargirl story is not narrated by Leo Borlock, as is the first. The book takes the form of a long letter, written over the course of a year and a day, and done diary-style, with a dozen or so dated entries appearing each month. The letter is written by Stargirl, and while the “you” addressed throughout is Leo, it’s uncertain whether it’ll ever be sent or given to him.
In his novels, Spinelli explores his characters (many of them quirky, non-conformists) fully, and by the end of Stargirl, you feel as though you know Stargirl – this girl who wears pioneer dresses, has a pet rat, and totes around a ukulele in order to serenade peers with “Happy Birthday” in the cafeteria – in and out.
But that knowledge was, of course, imperfect. We saw her through Leo’s eyes. We knew her from a remove. Here, in Love, Stargirl, we get closer. Reading about her year in her own words, seeing how she chooses to shape her experiences and feelings with language, we nestle up right against her heart – as close as Cinnamon the Rat when he’d tucked into her shirt pocket.
Plenty of people have written epistolary novels, and it’s possible that such books – along with their cousins, the diary-turned-novels – are more popular in Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. You can find a lot of books in these forms for even younger readers, too. They provide an instant sense of intimacy. Emphasis there on sense. Because depending on the writers’ skills, depending on the care they take with crafting their novel, the letter- or diary-writing character may still come off as dull or flat, the intimacy promised never delivered.
Spinelli, unsurprisingly, kills it. In my opinion, the guy can’t write a bad book. He could write a novel about hard-boiling an egg, and I’m willing to bet the sentences would sparkle and dance enough to keep me up all night reading. He pushed the letter/diary form – he wrings the thing for everything it’s got.
This week’s passage shows Stargirl having a “conversation” with a fantasy Leo. As she writes earlier, on October 6th: “I know you have questions, Leo. And I know you’re busy with other things at college. So I’ll ask them for you.” Such passages appear throughout the novel, YOU/ME dialogues, all of them funny, fascinating, and heartfelt (Spinelli’s trademark mixture). This one, though, leapt out at me in particular. It comes [SPOILER ALERT!!!] shortly after Stargirl has kissed another boy, Perry, and realized, to her surprise, that she doesn’t have feelings for him beyond those of a friend.
. . .
From “Love, Stargirl,” by Jerry Spinelli (pp. 223-226)
YOU: I’m surprised
ME: You’re not the only one.
YOU: Considering what you’ve been saying lately.
ME: I know.
YOU: Care to fill me in?
ME: Well, the most obvious thing is that if you had been here all along, it would have been no contest from the start. But . . . you are there and he is here, and, as Betty Lou said, I’ve been lonely and vulnerable. She also told me to inhabit my moments, to live today, to embrace the uncertainty, the mystery of Perry. So I guess that’s what I did the other day on Calendar Hill. I plunged into the moment. I let myself drown in it. The setting, the sunrise – talk about a moment! Who could resist? And that moment just went on and on for the rest of that day and into the next. But then I began to notice a funny thing. The moment began to fray at one end and disengage itself from one of its major parts – namely, him, Perry – until there was a clear space between them: the moment here, Perry there. They were not one and the same. And I began to feel again something that I had been only dimly aware of before. It was a small, surprising sense of disappointment even as he was kissing me, but the violins were so loud that at the time I could hear nothing else. Now that disappointment was returning, and with it the realization that the magic had come only from the moment, not from him. It was different with you, Leo. In the eyes and ears of my heart, you and the magic are one and the same. The setting never mattered. On the sidewalk in front of my house, at the enchanted place in the desert, walking the halls at school – wherever I was with you, I heard violins.
YOU: Wow. I don’t know what to say. I don’t deserve you.
ME: You’re right, for once.
YOU: After all that, how can I not love you back?
ME: Beats me.
YOU: OK, I’m saying it: I love you.
ME: No! I don’t want to hear it. Not that way. I never want to hear those words unless they’re coming from your lips. The flesh-and-blood you, not the fantasy you.
YOU: I thought you wanted me to say it. You’re not making sense.
ME: The heart makes no sense.
YOU: So what do you want from me?
ME: The answer is in your question – I want it from you. I want you to say the words because they’re flying out of your mouth, because you can’t possibly stop them, not because I led you to the brink of them. And I want to know that they’re being said to me. To me. Not to some girl in the movies or a book. Not to some idea of Girl that you’ve picked up along the way from other boys and other girls. To me. Stargirl. Do you know me, Leo? Really know me?
YOU: You’re making it hard to say yes.
ME: OK, short course, pay attention . . . Susan Julie Pocket Mouse Mudpie Hullygully Stargirl Caraway 101. She dreams a lot. She dreams of Ondines and falling maidens and houses burning in the night. But search her dreams all you like and you’ll never find Prince Charming. No Knight on a White Horse gallops into her dreams to carry her away. When she dreams of love, she dreams of smashed potatoes. She loves smashed potatoes, and she dreams that she and Starboy are eating smashed potatoes, possibly on a blanket at a deserted beach, and as Starboy digs in for another scoopful, he drops the spoon and his mouth falls open (showing some smashed potato goop, but she finds it cute), and he looks at her in a way she’s never been looked at before – he sees her! – and she can practically see the words boiling up inside him – they’re unstoppable! – and here they come, gushing over the smashed potatoes: “I love you, Stargirl!” They just keep coming as potato flecks fly – “I love you, Stargirl! I love you, Stargirl!” – like a cereus blooming not once but over and over a thousand times in a single night.
You understand what I’m saying, Leo?
YOU: You’re saying love makes its own magic.
ME: Praise be. There is hope.
YOU: I think I’d like to take Stargirl 102.
ME: Stargirl 102 is the same subject matter, but from Starboy’s point of view. The lesson is: he must hear violins too, the same ones she hears.
YOU: He did. I did.
ME: Maybe so. But you also heard the drumbeat of others. And the drumbeat overpowered the violins.
YOU: I can change.
ME: I hope so.