Bookshelf talked to Jerry Spinelli, author of Newbery winner Maniac Magee and Newbery Honor Book Wringer, about his follow-up to Stargirl: the forthcoming Love, Stargirl (Knopf).
Since Stargirl has more than a million copies in print, its title character clearly struck a chord with readers. What is it about this free-spirited character that has such strong appeal to young readers?
You probably nailed it with the word "free-spirited." Just because so many conforming kids wake up every morning asking, "What is everybody else going to wear today?" doesn't mean that they don't wish it were different. Peer pressure is just that: pressure. Stargirl, I guess, provides a relief valve for that pressure. Permission to be different. Permission to be oneself. Permission to wake up and ask, "What do I want to wear today?"
You've said that you don't write sequels. How was it, then, that you came to write Love, Stargirl?
Yes, I pointedly avoid doing sequels, since for the most part I find that a sequel rarely stands up to the original. I would mostly let an original novel resonate where it is rather than follow it up. But in this case, a couple of years ago my wife Eileen had a thought that it might be a nice idea to write up a little gifty holiday book relating somehow to Stargirl. And then as we talked further, the idea emerged of doing a short, solstice-themed Stargirl story. With that vague idea in mind I set out to write it, but I was never able to get a handle on that gifty little book. Or blame it on Stargirl herself, who apparently did not wish to be confined to a mere 60 pages. So the story eventually became that thing I don't write, namely a sequel.
Yet this second novel is written from Stargirl's perspective, whereas the original was written from the perspective of her best friend Leo. Did her own voice come easily to you after first revealing her through Leo's point of view?
I would say yes, her voice came easily, if only because I had already heard her speaking in the first book. I could not have delivered her to the reader through Leo had I not known her even better than he does. But there were other challenges. When I discovered that in fact I had myself a sequel going here, I did begin to face those series and sequels type of problems, such as continuing the characters and covering some previous ground so as to make references sensible—yet telling a new story without repeating oneself.
Stargirl is such a unique character. Is she like anyone you've ever met in real life?
Actually, yes. She certainly resembles Eileen more than anyone else. That's not to say that they amount to her biographies, but I have transplanted a few items from Eileen's life into the stories.
Did your wife recognize herself in Stargirl?
Well Eileen is my first editor and reads my books chapter by chapter as I write them. She never came to me and said, "Gee, this sounds like me," but I can't imagine she didn't have some idea. I do know that she liked Stargirl from the start.
Has the experience of writing this sequel changed your general aversion to writing follow-up books?
No, I still don't like to do sequels. I let Stargirl talk me into this one, but I don't expect it to become a habit.
So it's not likely that we'll be reading another novel about Stargirl?
At this point I would be very surprised if she reappears.
What other book projects to do you have underway?
I just published a novel, Eggs, with Little, Brown. It's a novel about an unlikely alliance between a teenage girl and a younger boy, both of whom are from fractured family situations. And I am about to send HarperCollins a revised manuscript for another novel, Smiles to Go, which will come out next spring. So that will make three books in three successive seasons. And when Love, Stargirl comes out in August, Knopf will also release Stargirl Journal, which contains quotes from the two Stargirl novels. The journal was another of Eileen's ideas.
So it's quite obvious that Eileen, in a number of ways, is a creative muse for you.
In fact, right now she and I are working on the first book that we have co-written. It will be nonfiction.
So do you routinely move swiftly from one book project to another, or do you ever take a break?
Actually, between books is precisely when I do give myself vacations. And the best part of those times is getting a call saying, "Hey, come on over, Grandpop."