Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
March 1, 2011; Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
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)
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