August 11, 2021 7:41 AM EDT

Throughout his career, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli has shown he’s a master of evoking the particular pangs felt in adolescence. In his best-selling 2000 novel Stargirl, Spinelli puts that talent to use in crafting a celebration of nonconformity and individuality. The story is narrated by Leo Borlock, a junior at run-of-the-mill Arizona high school Mica High. But the book’s focus is on Leo’s formerly home-schooled classmate Susan “Stargirl” Caraway—an eccentric new student who sports unusual outfits, brings her pet rat Cinnamon to school and serenades her peers with a ukulele—and who upends Mica’s social hierarchy simply by being her authentic self. Despite his trepidation over how she’s perceived by the student body, Leo finds himself immediately drawn to larger-than-life Stargirl. The book’s ultimate lesson is one of loyalty, to both our loved ones and ourselves. —Megan McCluskey

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