Leo Borlock recalls how, as a young child, he loved a necktie that his uncle Pete owned. The necktie had a porcupine painted on it. When Leo turned twelve, his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, and Pete gave the necktie to Leo. Leo decided to start a collection but never found any more porcupine neckties. Two years later, when his local newspaper features him for his fourteenth birthday, Leo’s mother mentions that Leo collects porcupine neckties, information the newspaper includes in the feature. A few days later, Leo receives a mysterious package that contains a porcupine necktie and the note “Happy Birthday!” He doesn’t know whom the necktie is from.
A now-sixteen-year-old Leo starts eleventh grade at Mica Area High School. Leo hears other students talking about a new girl in school named Stargirl. Leo sees Stargirl at lunch, wearing an old-fashioned dress and carrying a ukulele and a canvas bag with a sunflower painted on it. Leo’s friend Kevin immediately suggests having Stargirl as a guest on their school TV show, Hot Seat, where they interview different students. Stargirl begins playing her ukulele, singing, and marching around the cafeteria as the other students gawk in disbelief.
Students speculate about whether Stargirl is a real student or some sort of plant or joke by the school administration intended to stir up school spirit. Throughout the next few weeks, Leo observes Stargirl. She plays her ukulele and sings “Happy Birthday” to students in the cafeteria on their birthdays. She dresses in different ways and carries around her pet rat, Cinnamon. Everyone in the high school feels confused by Stargirl and wants to believe that she fakes her unique personality for attention, but Leo believes she is real.
Kevin and Leo argue about whether to invite Stargirl onto Hot Seat. Kevin wants her as a guest, but Leo feels reluctant to ask her and instead just wants to leave Stargirl alone. Students continue to circulate rumors about Stargirl as they consider her mannerisms odd. For example, she places a curtain and a vase holding a daisy on her desk in every class, and she greets everyone by name even if they haven’t met. Hillari Kimble is the student who is most suspicious of Stargirl and who suggests different theories about her. One day after school, Leo follows Stargirl. He notes that she goes to a house and drops off a card that reads “CONGRATULATIONS!” He continues to follow her into the desert before stopping and running back home.
Leo describes Hillari Kimble’s boyfriend, Wayne Parr, who is not known for anything in particular, but most students follow his lead and try to be like him. Since Wayne doesn’t attend the school’s football or basketball games, neither do most of the students. During sophomore year, Wayne was a guest on Hot Seat, and Kevin asked who his role model was. Wayne answered that the Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) magazine was his role model because he wanted to be a model one day. Leo recalls that at that moment, he thought Wayne would always rule the school.
Kevin calls Leo from a school football game and tells him to come right away. When Leo arrives, he sees that Stargirl is on the field, dancing around the marching band, joining the team for their warm-up exercises, and even grabbing the ball. The crowd cheers for her as she runs from the field. At the next football game, everyone from the school except Wayne and Hillari comes to watch, hoping to see Stargirl. But Stargirl does not show up to this game. The following week, the head cheerleader asks Stargirl to join the squad, and Stargirl agrees. People begin going to cheerleading practice just to watch Stargirl. Leo realizes that most students no longer feel perplexed by Stargirl, but instead they are curious about what she will do next. However, he knows that no one will risk getting too close to her.
Hillari tells Stargirl not to sing to her on her birthday, which is the following day. Stargirl agrees. The next day at lunch, Stargirl begins singing “Happy Birthday” while walking around the cafeteria, ending up at Leo’s table and singing to him. When Kevin asks her why she sang to Leo, Stargirl says she thinks Leo’s cute.
Leo and Kevin go to see Archie Brubaker, a retired paleontology professor who opens his home to students of all ages on Saturday mornings to teach them about fossils as well as anything else they want to learn about. Leo and Kevin tell Archie they have come to talk to him about Stargirl and are surprised to learn that Archie knows her. Archie explains that Stargirl has been homeschooled until this year and that her mother used to bring Stargirl to Archie’s home once a week. When Leo and Kevin ask about her name, Archie replies that Stargirl has called herself several different names in the time he has known her. Archie explains that to better understand Stargirl, Leo and Kevin should explore the questions they have about her rather than the answers they hope to get.
Around Thanksgiving, Leo realizes that Stargirl has become the most popular girl in school. Instead of avoiding her, students have started to imitate her. They bring ukuleles to play in the cafeteria, put flowers on their desks, and buy pet rats. Stargirl competes in the school’s annual oratorical contest by giving a lively speech, which everyone watching considers the best. While the judges debate about the winner, the students watch a short documentary film about the previous year’s winner. The film shows that when the winner returns to his school after winning the state finals, the entire student body is waiting there to celebrate him. After the film, the judges announce Stargirl the winner, adding that she will now move on to the state finals.
Leo observes how students have begun expressing themselves more openly due to Stargirl’s influence. Leo tells Archie that the change in the school seems like a miracle and a spirit of individuality has emerged, but Archie warns that miracles don’t last forever.
Leo finally agrees to have Stargirl as the featured guest on Hot Seat. Leo and Kevin set a date for her show to be filmed in February, a month away. However, after they secure Stargirl as a guest, students’ attitudes toward her begin to change. Stargirl substitutes words in the Pledge of Allegiance, which most students find funny, but some do not. Stargirl attends the funeral of a student’s grandfather, which upsets the student’s mother because Stargirl didn’t know him. Stargirl anonymously buys a bike for a nine-year-old boy who crashed his old bike and had to have surgery. This act of generosity upsets the boy’s mother as she doesn’t want him riding a bike again, and she throws the bike away.
Leo notes that their school’s basketball team has been undefeated this season, which excites most of the student body. Stargirl, who has drawn people to the games as a cheerleader, cheers for both her school’s team and the opposing team, which upsets her classmates. At an away game, Stargirl becomes upset for the losing team and leaves the gym. After the game, the rest of the cheerleaders tell Stargirl to get something from the gym and then have the bus leave without her to make the two-hour drive back home.
On the day of Stargirl’s appearance on Hot Seat, Leo and Kevin expect a lot of people to watch this episode, but Leo secretly hopes that no one does. Since they first asked her to appear, Stargirl’s popularity has dwindled due to her cheering for other schools’ basketball teams. As Leo and the crew prepare to film, Leo notices that Hillari is one of the students on the show’s jury who get to ask Stargirl questions. Stargirl begins the interview pretending that her chair is a literal “hot seat,” and theatrically leaps up, letting Cinnamon, her pet rat, loose. Leo gets prime video footage.
Kevin begins asking Stargirl questions on Hot Seat, but then the jury of students takes over. One boy asks Stargirl if she loves her country and why she says the Pledge of Allegiance wrong. Others ask Stargirl why she cheers for the other schools’ teams. Stargirl answers their questions honestly, but the jury becomes angry. One girl asks why Stargirl feels free to meddle in other people’s business. Stargirl appears rattled. Hillari then stands up and calls Stargirl crazy, saying that Stargirl does weird things to get attention and asks why Stargirl can’t be “normal.” Leo stops recording, but the jury keeps shouting.
Leo observes that Stargirl doesn’t seem to be fazed by what happened during the recording of Hot Seat, which never aired. At the first basketball game of the playoffs, Stargirl, still a cheerleader, only cheers for her school’s team, not the opposing team. Later in the game, the opposing team’s best player falls and breaks his leg. As he lies on the ground, Stargirl comforts him and holds his head in her lap. Once the game resumes, Mica Area High School’s team wins. However, they lose the next few games, and at the last game, someone throws a tomato at Stargirl’s face when she continues to cheer. The next morning, Leo finds a card in his notebook that says, “I love you,” with Stargirl’s signature.
Leo asks Kevin if he received a card from Stargirl, thinking that she must have given a card to everyone, but Kevin says he didn’t get one. Leo tries to avoid Stargirl, but she says hello to him in the cafeteria, an event he replays in his head for the rest of the day. The next day, Leo and other kids show up to Archie’s house. The kids lament over their basketball loss, and Archie shows them a fossil, claiming that the creature lost its championship game, too.
Kevin teases Leo about Stargirl being in love with him, and Leo can’t stop thinking about her. He overhears that the cheerleading squad kicked Stargirl out. That night, Leo walks to Stargirl’s house. When someone opens the front door, he hides behind a car in the driveway. Even though she can’t see him, Stargirl begins talking to Leo. She mentions the day that he followed her to the desert and asks why he ran away. Cinnamon, her pet rat, goes over to Leo, and Leo plays with him while talking to Stargirl. Stargirl says good night, and Leo realizes he doesn’t want to leave her.
The next day, Leo and Stargirl find each other after school. Stargirl tells Leo that she’s going to take him to an enchanted place and brings him to a specific spot in the desert. Leo doesn’t understand what makes the place enchanted, and Stargirl encourages him to try to do nothing and still his mind. They sit in silence until the sun sets, and then they leave while holding hands.
Leo and Stargirl begin spending more time together in school. Leo notices that, aside from Kevin, none of their fellow classmates look at or speak to them. When Leo asks Kevin about it, Kevin explains that everyone has been giving Stargirl the silent treatment in retaliation for her cheering on the other basketball teams. Leo becomes more aware of how the other students see him, while Stargirl is oblivious to their contempt for her.
Leo talks to Archie about how he and Stargirl are being treated in school. Leo wonders aloud why Stargirl can’t act more like the other kids in school, and Archie advises him to consider whether he cares more about what Stargirl thinks of him or what his classmates think of him.
Stargirl starts to prepare her speech for the oratorical state finals the following month. She practices her speech for Leo, and they begin to spend more time together outside school. She points things out to Leo that he does not otherwise notice, like the colors of doors or ants on the sidewalk. Leo goes with Stargirl to buy an African violet that she leaves on the doorstep of someone who recently had surgery, and Leo realizes that Stargirl was the one who sent him the porcupine tie after his fourteenth birthday.
Stargirl teaches Leo about other things she likes to do, like read fillers in the newspaper—the bits of information not important enough to be turned into a full story—and look at notices on bulletin boards to learn about other people and what they might be going through. They play a game in the mall where they follow someone around for fifteen minutes and guess what kind of card they need at the moment. Stargirl invites Leo to have dinner at her house that night.
Leo and Stargirl go to Stargirl’s house for dinner. He feels surprised to find that her parents are like anyone else’s parents. After dinner, Leo and Stargirl sit on her front step as Stargirl takes pictures of a boy playing across the street. She explains to Leo that she’s making a biography for the boy so that he can look back on his childhood when he’s older. Leo points out that Stargirl spends all her time doing things for other people and how that makes her different from so many others. She teases him about being jealous, and the two share their first kiss.
Leo and Stargirl spend their weekends together. At school, they are still being given the silent treatment by their classmates. Stargirl continues to sing “Happy Birthday” to people and give out gifts, but most of the students now see her as wanting attention or thinking herself better than everyone else. They blame Stargirl for their basketball team’s loss, and Leo becomes angry about having to choose between his classmates and Stargirl.
Stargirl posts a sheet that says “Stargirl Loves Leo” outside the school. Leo feels very embarrassed by this display and avoids her for the rest of the day. Students who previously were only giving Stargirl the silent treatment now start doing the same to Leo.
After Leo avoids Stargirl for a few days, Stargirl confronts Leo in the TV studio. Leo tells her that he wants to be with her, but he feels upset that no one will talk to them because of how Stargirl acts. He explains to her why people are upset about her cheering for other teams and comforting the player who broke his leg. For days, Leo tells Stargirl what she should and should not do to fit in. Leo tells her that she should be more like their classmates because no one likes her now.
Leo doesn’t see Stargirl in the courtyard before school like he normally does and wonders where she could be. At lunch he sees another girl sitting at Stargirl’s usual table. As he leaves the cafeteria, he realizes that the girl at the table is actually Stargirl, who now says her name is Susan. Susan wears clothing similar to the other kids in school and doesn’t have her ukulele or Cinnamon, her pet rat. Now, Leo feels ecstatic and proud to be seen with her in school. Leo and Susan become an official couple and go on dates to the mall and movies over the next several weeks. Occasionally, Susan checks with Leo to see if her behavior matches what everyone else would do. After a few weeks, Susan points out that their classmates still don’t like her. One day, she tells Leo that she’s had a vision. She saw herself winning the oratorical state contest and returning to their school to find the entire student body cheering for her, just like in the documentary they watched. Susan becomes convinced that by winning the contest, she will become popular again.
Mr. McShane, a faculty representative, drives Susan and Leo to the oratorical contest in Phoenix. Susan feels sure that she will win, but Mr. McShane tells her not to get her hopes up. Susan talks about the crowd that will be waiting for her when they return to the school on Saturday. She asks Leo if he will hold the silver plate the winner gets so that she doesn’t drop it when people rush forward to congratulate her. After stopping the car to twirl around the cacti in the desert, Susan asks Mr. McShane if he knows of any extinct birds. Mr. McShane says he knows of a bird called a moa that went extinct in New Zealand.
Leo, Susan, and Mr. McShane arrive at the hotel where they will spend the night and head to the high school where the contestants will give their speeches. Susan delivers her first speech titled “I Might Have Heard a Moa,” which Leo notes differs from the speech she has been practicing over the last month. Later, she tells Leo she made it up on the spot. When Susan gives her final speech of the night, the audience becomes spellbound and seems to hold its breath for several seconds after she finishes. After this moment of silence, however, the crowd jumps up and cheers wildly, and Leo cries, overcome with emotion. Susan wins the contest.
Susan and Leo celebrate her victory in the oratorical contest. The next morning, Susan’s picture is on the front page of the newspaper with a story about her speech. As Mr. McShane drives Susan and Leo back home, Susan says she will carry the silver plate herself while the other students lift her onto their shoulders. As they pull into the high school parking lot, they see only two teachers and Susan’s friend Dori waiting for them with a sign congratulating Susan, but no one else shows up.
Susan goes home and Leo doesn’t hear from her the rest of the weekend. At school on Monday, she is back to being Stargirl, with her long dresses, ukulele, and pet rat. Leo asks Stargirl why she would give up trying to be popular and normal. As her response, Stargirl smiles kindly and tells Leo she knows he won’t ask her to the Ocotillo Ball and that it’s okay with her. The next day, Stargirl posts a flyer for students to sign up to join a new ukulele musical group. Dori is the only one who signs up unironically, and Dori and Stargirl practice duets and perform in the courtyard, where they are shunned by the other students.
Leo doesn’t go to the Ocotillo Ball, but Stargirl goes by herself. She arrives at the dance, held at the Mica Country Club, in a bicycle sidecar wearing a bright yellow strapless gown and carrying Cinnamon in a basket. She begins dancing alone until one boy asks her to dance with him. Afterward, Stargirl leads people in the bunny hop dance. Every couple except for Hillari and Wayne joins in. Stargirl leads the line from the dance floor to the tennis courts and then to the golf course until they are all out of sight. When the crowd returns, Hillari tells Stargirl that she ruins everything and slaps her. Stargirl kisses Hillari on the cheek and disappears.
Fifteen years have passed since the dance and Stargirl’s disappearance. Leo remembers going to Stargirl’s house the summer after the Ocotillo Ball and seeing a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Later, Archie tells Leo that Stargirl’s family moved to Minnesota. Shortly before Leo leaves for college, Archie shows Leo the room in his house that Stargirl once used as an office. This is where she kept a calendar of birthdays and lists of people’s likes and dislikes.
Leo, now living as a set designer on the East Coast, returns to Mica to visit Archie. Upon arriving, Leo drives Archie to the desert, where they talk about Stargirl. Archie buries his favorite fossil and a scrap of paper in the desert.
More Than Stars
Over the years after high school, Leo stays in touch with Kevin but never attends his high school reunions. Kevin still lives in Mica, and he tells Leo that the subject of Stargirl often comes up with their former classmates. No one knows where Stargirl is, but they talk about doing the bunny hop at the ball, and they realize the impact she had on the high school. For example, the high school now has a club called the Sunflowers, whose members do one nice thing per day for someone else; the school’s marching band features a ukulele player; and at basketball games, the Mica students always cheer for the opposing team. Leo often reads the fillers in newspapers and buys cards for strangers. The day before Leo’s birthday, he receives a gift-wrapped package, which he opens to find a porcupine necktie inside. Leo feels certain Stargirl watches over him.