Growth stocks are the beauties of the stock world, plain and simple. They're exciting, they have good stories, and they can make you a lot of money.

But for all their beauty, growth stocks are also the prima donnas of the market. They can be erratic, they don't always live up to their billing, and they tend to attract a shareholder base that's ready and willing to run at the first signs of slowdown. For those reasons, caution is certainly in order when you enter the world of growth investing.

Fortunately, The Motley Fool's CAPS service brings us the collective intelligence of more than 160,000 investors and is a great resource for separating the Jessica Albas from the Jabba the Hutts. Each of the stocks competing for this week's top spot has a market cap of at least $100 million and grew its earnings per share by an average of 15% or more per year over the past three years. So let's go ahead and meet our contestants.

Company

Three-Year EPS Growth Rate

Price-to-Earnings Ratio

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP)

41%

48.3

****

Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG)

36%

44.7

***

GameStop (NYSE: GME)

32%

9.4

***

True Religion Apparel (Nasdaq: TRLG)

25%

14.5

***

Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM)

23%

25.1*

*****

Source: Yahoo! Finance, Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's, and CAPS as of May 19.

*Non-GAAP earnings, used to compare to analyst estimates, from Yahoo! Finance.

Growth without good looks
Considering that consumer spending has been a major concern when it comes to the economic recovery, it shouldn't be all that surprising that CAPS members aren't terribly keen on the apparel and luxury goods stocks. Members rank True Religion no better than matching the market going forward.

Of course, True Religion may stand out as a particularly worrisome pick in the consumer world. The company's bread and butter is fashion-forward jeans that carry price tags in the $250 neighborhood. Lindsay Lohan can only buy so many pairs of jeans, so with an unemployment rate of nearly 10%, it seems pretty reasonable to wonder how fast the market for high-priced denim is actually growing right now.

Jumping over to video-game retailing, despite GameStop's strong historical growth and the tantalizingly low valuation, the stock has gathered enough underperform ratings on CAPS to keep it stuck at just three stars.

The reason for the low rating could be boiled down to two words: digital distribution. Quite a few CAPS members have raised the concern that the age of digital downloads will spell doom for GameStop and its bricks-and-mortar model. If you still want to invest in video games, the CAPS community has given much higher ratings to game designer Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI).

And when it comes to robotic surgery specialist Intuitive Surgical, even most of the bears seem to dig the company's business and its growth potential. So why are they bearish? It all comes down to valuation. While there are expectations for strong growth, the company would need some pretty incredible growth to justify its valuation.

Strutting their stuff
While the stocks above haven't been able to sufficiently inspire CAPS members, Ctrip has.

Though Ctrip's price-to-earnings ratio may make Intuitive Surgical look cheaper, most CAPS members seem to give Ctrip a pass thanks to the slingshot effect that this online travel specialist could get from the torrid growth in China. Bulls need not look any further than the company's recent results: Net income increased 57% in the first quarter.

Of course, Ctrip's valuation may be what has kept the stock from nabbing a perfect five-star CAPS rating. So instead, Akamai squeaked by to become this week's top growth stock.

So what makes Akamai such a great pick? It's really very simple: The company is the leader in a large, growing, and very important industry. Akamai's solutions enable the seamless delivery of all of the rich content that makes the Internet so distracting ... wait, I mean, useful. Whether you're watching TV online, streaming your favorite music, or watching a squirrel run an obstacle course (that's an actual video), it's very likely that Akamai is involved in getting that wonderful content to you.

But don't take it from me. CAPS All-Star PearlandTX is one of the 2,800-plus Akamai fans on CAPS, and his pitch -- which he made back in 2007 -- remains just as true today:

Akamai dominates a highly specialized niche in the digital world. When you click on a web page and rich content is served up quickly, chances are that Akamai is the company making the fast delivery possible. Their customer list includes most of the premier online companies. ... Bottom line: Several powerful megatrends are working concurrently to create a powerful tailwind that propels Akamai forward.

Now go vote!
Do you think that Akamai has what it takes to be America's next top growth stock? Head over to CAPS and let the rest of the community know what you think.

Don't be so quick to shun that large, well-known stock just because it's large and well-known. It might be your ticket to huge long-term gains.

Ctrip is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection. Akamai and Intuitive Surgical are Rule Breakers selections. Activision Blizzard is a Stock Advisor pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended a synthetic long position on Activision Blizzard and a write-covered-calls position on GameStop. The Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy would surely win America's Next Top Disclosure Policy, but for some reason there's no such contest.