Gordon Korman's Schooled (2007) features a kid who has been homeschooled navigating his way through 8th grade in a public middle school; Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl (2000) has a 10th grade protagonist who has been homeschooled and is in a public high school for the first time. The ages and genders may be different, but the plots are similar: outsider hippy kid enters the mainstream for the first time, failing miserably at fitting in. At first rejected by the kids, then embraced by kids and becoming influential. Stargirl outshines Schooled by far. Schooled''s main character, Capricorn Anderson, has been raised on a commune by his grandmother. Except that they are the only two people living there. The commune that Capricorn's grandmother founded has long been disbanded, and Capricorn's parents are both dead. Yet throughout the book, Capricorn refers to his home as "the community." Schooled is filled with so many of these types of details that I found them to be distracting and false-sounding. Capricorn is given a checkbook by the school principal, in order to write checks for things such as the vendors for the Halloween dance. Capricorn ends up writing checks willy-nilly to charities, giving generously. He also uses one check at a jewelry store; the unbelievability of a jewelry store accepting a check from a 13 year old boy with no identification and the name of his middle school on the check made me pause. While Schooled is a sweet story, even a page-turner at some points, I found the incongruity of the "facts" of the story to make the book much weaker than it would have been had Korman tightened up some of these details.
While Schooled treats Capricorn like he has been raised on another planet ("What's a Starbuck?" he asks), Stargirl treats Stargirl Caraway as just different. She is here, she is part of this world, but she is just doing it her own way. A much more believable book, Stargirl presents its heroine as contemporary, yet utterly unique. While Capricorn Anderson seems to have time-traveled from the 1960s (although born in 1994), Stargirl Caraway is just straight out of central casting as a non-conformist. Stargirl is a more thought-provoking story about how people react to an outsider, and it completely captures the Icarian highs and lows of the laws of the teenage social world with a sparkly magical realism. Both titles have been on middle school summer reading lists in recent years --- read both and see if you agree with my analysis!