Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

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Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
March 1, 2011; Bloomsbury USA Children's Books


Summary

According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object-an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas-it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking-er, focusing on-Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

In this sweet story of first love, Lindsey Leavitt seamlessly balances heartfelt family moments, spot-on sarcastic humor, and a budding young romance. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Payton Gritas is a Type-A, uber-organized perfectionist. Her world is black and white. It either is or it isn't. Payton's life is easy. She goes to school. She loves her best friend Jac and her family. She works hard and everything goes right. Until it doesn't. When she discovers that her dad has multiple sclerosis and her parents hid it from her for six months, her world goes upside down. And being the perfectionist that she is, she manages to "perfect" breaking down. I think that hardships hit people who are accustomed to a good life and are very high strung particularly hard. Payton definitely fits that description. She gives her parents the silent treatment, lashes out at her friends, loses interest in basketball, school, and life in general.

Enter Sean Griswold. His head unwittingly becomes Payton's focus object in response to an assignment from the school guidance counselor. Even though they've sat by each other at school for years, Payton knows nothing about him. In true Payton style, she overdoes her focus object assignment. Sean Griswold's head becomes an obsession. She is fascinated with every hair, every scar, every bump. Then she gets curious about the person within. Turns out Sean's a pretty cool guy. For all her eccentricities, Payton's a pretty cool girl. Put the two of them together and sparks start to fly.

As crazy and somewhat irritating as Payton was, I loved her character. Leavitt created a character who acted just like someone with her personality should. I didn't always like Payton's choices or reactions, but they always felt right. She goes through enormous growth in this book. She begins to understand that the world is not black and white. Things won't collapse if they don't go just the way she wants them too. People can still be good even if push you too far.

Sean was also a fabulous character. I liked that he was a boy. So many YA love interests are mature beyond their years, quasi-men. Sean was sweet, smart, funny, and more, but he was clearly still a kid. It's nice to have a character in a novel who could conceivably exist - a boy who I might have known as a teenager.

I loved Payton and Sean's relationship. Their introduction is predicated on Payton's new obsession with Sean's head, but it soon becomes a lot more. They both love Seinfeld. Sean is really into biking and gets Payton into it too. Sean did a good job of pushing Payton to look at the world through someone's perspective other than her own, even if Payton didn't always appreciate Sean's effort. It was a great story of a realistic romance.

The side characters were interesting. I loved the portrayal of Payton's family. Even though she hates them throughout most of this book, it is so nice to see a YA novel where the parents not only exist, but are actually normal, well-meaning, loving parents. Grady the Goth, Sean's friend who terrified Payton was a useful character. Useful in the sense that he exemplified Payton's one-dimensional view of the world and her eventual transition into a three-dimensional view. Unlike many reviewers, I was not a big friend of Payton's boy-crazy bestie Jac. I thought she was annoying and pushed Payton too far. But the boy-crazy best friend is a stereotypical YA character that generally annoys me, so I was already biased.

At times, Sean Griswold is hard to read. Not because the plot is uninteresting - it's definitely not - and not because the characters are bad - they're all quite loveable. Dealing with multiple sclerosis is not easy and neither are the effects on the person's family. Payton is very hard on people - her family and her friends. I got frustrated with how she overreacted at times, but as I said, it felt entirely appropriate.

Sean Griswold's Head is a touching story of family, friends, romance and the hardships and growth that you experience when the floor falls out from underneath you.

Rating: 4 / 5

15 comments:

  1. I really like Lindsey Leavitt's Princess for Hire series. This seems a lot more realistic and sadder. Still, it seems like she nailed it, so I think I'll give it a shot sometme. I like how you describe Sean as being realistic.

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  2. Payton does sound like a really layered character. I like the ones who make it challenging to like them at times, but you can't help but love them under all their layers of crazy! I probably would have passed on this one because I'm not a huge fan of the cover, but I think it needs to be on the list now:) Thanks for a fantastic review Alison!

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  3. Great thoughts. This has been on my list, I just need to keep it moving up! Thanks.

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  4. I truly loved this book--it's one of my top reads of 2011! The characters are awesome, especially Payton. Plus, her relationship with her family is so realistic. Awesome review!
    Happy Reading!
    Mary @ Book Swarm

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  5. Nice review. A story with normal parents, how neat. It's nice to see your frank reaction to how Payton treats the people around her. Sounds like an interesting summer read for teens. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I don't know if this book is for me, but it does sounds interesting. I never read about a character that has multiple sclerosis! Great review.

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  7. Like Small Review, I also liked Lindsey's Princess for Hire series, and I've been hearing good things about this one too ^.^ I am intrigued by the relationship being more age appropriate, but that seems to be Lindsey's style so I'm glad it's true in this one too. I will have to check this book out.

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  8. Agreed - the characters aren't perfect, but they're very realistic...that definitely adds depth to the story.

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  9. I've seen lots of positive reviews about this book. I love a great family in YA, which we get so very little of along with great, multilayered characters. This is something that I'll definitely want to read. Thanks for a terrific review!

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  10. This sounds like a really interesting book. I get tired of love interests who act like they are 16 going on 35, so realism would be a nice change. :)

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  11. I would never have thought, based on the cover, that this would be such a layered and thoughtful story. Fabulous review, Alison :)

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  12. I really enjoyed your review of this book. I saw it in Borders today and thought about buying it but I haven't really heard much about it. so i think I will try it :)

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  13. Following you now on Twitter too! Book envy that you snagged a copy of NW. Happy Reading :)

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  14. I've heard really good things about this book.

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  15. You really nailed this review. And yes, I bookmarked it until I had finished the book, so I could come back and give it a fair reading. *grin* I agree with you that Payton seemed extremely believable. Her character never acted 'out of character' - and I think that is due to Leavitt's skill. I agree with you that the book wasn't all sunshine and roses, either - there were bits about the MS that made me cry. In public, no less. Great review!

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