[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/07/23/palin.spotlight/art.palin.gi.jpg caption="Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has a strong base of supporters, as well as a steady supply of vocal critics."]
(CNN) - Last August, then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain introduced to the nation his surprise pick for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
At the time, little was known about the fresh-faced, first-term governor, but within days, Palin's face was on newspapers, magazines and tabloids.
Since then, Palin has become a polarizing figure in the Republican Party. Her passionate supporters are countered with equally fervent critics.
And even though it's been nearly a year since she ventured onto the national stage and more than eight months since the Republican ticket lost the election, as Palin prepares to leave office, the public's interest in her has yet to wane. Palin explains why she's stepping down
"She's kind of a shooting star that caught fire and kept burning," said Lorenzo Benet, an assistant editor for People magazine and author of "Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin."
"When she walks into a room, she definitely commands attention and she gets more than most. She's definitely a star," said Benet, who was the only national journalist to have spent much time with Palin in the weeks before she was announced as McCain's running mate.
Palin, a mother of five, "caught the imagination" of the public because there is no one else like her, Benet said. "Particularly for conservative America, there hasn't been a rallying figure of this type," he noted.