I wanted to really like Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. Really, I did. In some ways, I did like it. I appreciated a young adult novel that did not center around drugs and sex and alcohol, but on the more mundane struggles of adolescence, of fitting in and what we should do in order to accomplish it. Stargirl Caraway shows up as a sophomore at Mica High and immediately has the halls buzzing with her non-conformist hair and clothes and make-up and approach to friendship. She carries her pet rat to class and sings happy birthday to students in the cafeteria accompanied by her ukulele. Naturally, she is non-conformist because she was home-schooled and doesn’t understand the Borg collective that is her peer group, as understood and explained by her boyfriend Leo. When he asks her why she came to school, she tells him that she wanted friends. *sigh* Really, Spinelli? You couldn’t think of a more realistic reason for a homeschooled kid to go to high school, like a more simple college application process or organized sports? This book was too saccharine, too cliched to be everything it was cut out to be.
I also finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery today. I don’t know what I think about this one. I wanted to really like it, but it was really hyper-intellectual, with discussions of Japanese culture and philosophies of beauty and art. Twelve-year olds with complex existential theories and concierges with strange complexes about being known to be intelligent seem a little over the top. There are good elements. The writing is strong, with moments of sweet profundity (haha, who’s being snobbish now) that really pull you along, but there’s so much Sophie’s World-like overexplanation of the concepts. I think the real reason that this book has thus far done well in the States is that people in reviews have claimed that it might be “too French” for Americans, and in a scramble to disprove this, we all have nodded sagely at the Emporer’s nakedness and declared this book to be a stunning masterpiece. It’s okay, don’t get me wrong, but it does not speak to the human condition very well unless you really identify with the misunderstood uber intelligent narrators and see yourself, like them, as standing against a world that misunderstands and maligns you for your brilliance.
Sadly, I don’t.