For fans who have loved Stargirl the book since they were young (hello, it's me), streaming the Disney+ film the moment it was released on March 13 was a must. As someone who to this day has a tattered copy of the Jerry Spinelli novel on her bookshelf, I was eager to see one of my favorite stories come to life, and I know I'm not the only one. The differences between the Stargirl book and the movie, however, have many fans feeling some type of way.
Based on the novel released in 2000, Stargirl is the definition of the perfect "coming of age" love story. Cute boy falls for not-your-average girl and high school drama ebbs and flows with their relationship. Except in this case, the girl has a pet rat and plays a ukulele, and the high school drama is a little less Gossip Girl and a little more Glee.
Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere), a 16-year-old boy going into his junior year of high school meets Stargirl Caraway (Grace VanderWaal, aka the ukulele girl from America’s Got Talent), a previously homeschooled sophomore who is, in a word, unique. While these characters and the general story are similar, fans who read all about Leo and Stargirl in the early 2000s will be slightly shook over some of the changes made for the film.
1. The backstory of the porcupine necktie is different.
In the book, the necktie was given to Leo by his Uncle Pete as a farewell present before he moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona. From there, he started collecting ties himself. After being mentioned in the local newspaper for his unique collection, Leo received an anonymous porcupine necktie after his 14th birthday (which he later found out was from Stargirl). In the movie, the original tie was from his deceased father, and the rest of the timeline was moved up a bit as well, as more than one tie was given to him anonymously from Stargirl.
2. Leo's desire to not stand out stemmed from a different place.
In the film, Leo's desire to blend in stemmed from being bullied as a child (and his porcupine necktie getting cut). In the book, however, it was not as cut and dry. You know Leo is attracted to silliness and strangeness (hence his love of porcupine neckties and the feelings he has for Stargirl), but his yearning to be like everyone else wasn't originally from a place of fear. Leo was just an average guy. He was not in the marching band. He didn't have a girlfriend. He didn't want to stand out, because when the book was written, standing out wasn't as coveted as it is in 2020.
3. Stargirl's rat love was a bigger deal in the book.
Sure, in the movie, Stargirl's rat, Cinnamon, was seen once or twice. In the book, though, her furry companion is a much bigger deal. Not only did she dress the rat up and bring it to all of her classes, but at her height of popularity, other students start buying rats and ukuleles to mimic her.
4. Her Happy Wagon was missing.
One of fans' favorite takeaways from the book was Stargirl's Happy Wagon, a little toy wagon she would fill with pebbles to indicate and reflect on how she was feeling. In the book, this was how she finally showed Leo how happy he made her, and how miserable she was trying to be like everyone, else by indicating the five lone pebbles in her wagon.
My happy wagon is almost empty, Leo. Only five pebbles left. Happywise, I’m operating on only 25 percent capacity. Remember when I first showed my wagon to you? How many pebbles were in it then? Seventeen? And then I put another in, remember? I never told you this, but before I went to bed that night, after we kissed for the first time on the sidewalk outside my house, I put in the last two pebbles. Twenty. Total happiness. For the first time ever.
While sure, there was quick look at the wagon on her nightstand in the movie, true fans of the source material definitely wanted more.
5. Stargirl was more eclectic in the book.
In the book, Stargirl's outfits ranged from a 1920s flapper dress one day and a pioneer outfit the next, as opposed to her brightly-colored overalls (which aren't that off-trend) in the film. In addition to her appearance, in the book, Leo spent more time with Stargirl as they gave gifts to random people and created stories about strangers they saw in the mall for fun, showing it wasn't just her appearance or outward personality that's unique; it's all how she spent her spare time and how she viewed the world.
6. The "Happy Birthday" singing happened to everyone in the books, not just Leo.
One of Stargirl's many quirks in the book was singing happy birthday to students on their special days. She had a calendar filled with her classmates' birthdays, and students had come to expect the singing. In the movie, Leo met Stargirl on his birthday when she sang to him, but in the book, it all went down differently: When popular girl Hillari Kimble ordered Stargirl not to sing on her birthday, Stargirl sang Hillari's name but serenaded Leo instead. When asked why, she simply responded, ''He's cute.''
7. Hillari's role was reduced in the movie.
Speaking of Hillari, she played a much bigger and more bully-style part in the book. From the beginning, she didn't like Stargirl's uniqueness, thinking it was fake and a way to get attention. Not only that, but once she took off her shoe and use it to beat a cookie Stargirl gave her, which was rude to both Stargirl and to carbs. In the movie, Hillari's hatred was a little more warranted. She was furious at Stargirl for returning her brother's bike post-accident, which in turn made him and her entire family more miserable because it reminded them he'd never be able to ride it again.
8. The bike wasn't really a thing in the book.
Stargirl, known for doing acts of kindness, had no idea the extent of Hillari's brother's injuries and apologized for the pain she caused at the end of the movie. In the book, however, the bike Stargirl returned wasn't that big of a deal, and the incident didn't even involve Hillari or her brother.
9. Leo and Stargirl's relationship was different in the movie adaption.
Stargirl and Leo's relationship began almost immediately in the film, whereas in the book, the build was slow — so slow, in fact, Leo didn't even know he fell in love with her until after it had already happened.
In the movie, their breakup was a little confusing post-speech competition. Did they just fight? Did they actually break up? Was she just going back to being Stargirl and he was going to need to be cool with it?
In the book, however, their breakup was much more formal. After Stargirl hung a huge banner up in the school's courtyard declaring her love for him, Leo was embarrassed and felt the pressure of being shunned by his classmates even more. After he kept brushing her off, she confronted him a few days later and asked if they're breaking up. In his frustration, Leo accidentally called her Susan, and ultimately called it quits.
10. In the book, Stargirl, not Leo, had the spotlight at the dance.
In the movie, not only did Leo attend the dance, but Stargirl specifically asked him to go, telling him a surprise would be waiting for him. This resulted in Leo facing his fears of standing out and performing a solid rendition of "Just What I Needed" by The Cars.
In the book, however, Stargirl and Leo were 100% broken up, and Leo did not even attend the dane. Stargirl instead went with her friend, and Leo watched from across the street as she danced with another guy and led the entire school in a long, winding bunny hop dance.
11. There was no slap in the movie.
In the book, after Stargirl returned with the class from doing the bunny hop, Hillari, being one of the only ones who didn't join in, slapped Stargirl across the face. Stargirl then kissed her on the cheek and disappeared, never to be seen again.
Instead, the movie ended with Stargirl apologizing to Hillari. Considering this movie was released by Disney+ 20 years after the book was published, and Hillari's hatred toward Stargirl had a more personal backstory, this altered ending makes sense. “When you’re actually having a young actress slap another young actress, it just feels very different at the end of the day,” director Julia Hart told IndieWire. “Physical violence didn’t feel like the message that we wanted Hilari’s character to be sending to young people. Ultimately her message in the film is really important: That your intentions can be good and positive and kind, but if you don’t actually stop and listen to people, look at people, and ask them questions and know their story, it can have catastrophic consequences that you never intended.”
With all those changes, it's definitely worthwhile for fans who enjoyed the movie to check out the book, and vice-versa. Plus, for those who can't get enough, there's also a 2007 followup book titled Love, Stargirl, so now is the perfect time to get reading and catch up on some childhood favorites.