After Payton Gritas’s father is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she’s sent to her school’s guidance counselor. Payton doesn’t think she needs to see a counselor, but being fifteen means that she doesn’t always get a say in what happens. Her guidance counselor thinks she needs a focus object to help her deal with her feelings about her dad’s illness. It’s supposed to be inanimate, but Payton chooses Sean Griswold’s head, because he sits right in front of her and she’s always staring at it. As Payton studies Sean and starts to get to know him, she’s surprised to find that she really likes what she sees.
Leavitt’s novel totally sneak-attacked me. Lately, I’ve been much more interested in YA that features older protagonists, and reading about a high school freshman gave me some pause. However, Leavitt’s strong writing, great characterization, and genuinely interesting premise kept me engaged, entertained, and unwilling to put the book down. One of the strongest contemporary YA novels I’ve read recently, Sean Griswold’s Head doesn’t disappoint.
Told entirely from Payton’s point of view with excerpts of her focus-object journal interspersed between chapters, Leavitt manages to believably capture the voice and motivations of a teenage girl. Payton is a good kid who loves her parents and her best friend, but she’s also a teenager: she’s a little selfish, totally stubborn, and unable to see the bigger picture when dealing with her own problems. All of this could add up to Payton being really annoying, and yet in Leavitt’s hands, it doesn’t. It just feels real.
Although it broaches the subject of MS, this book is not an in-depth exploration of it. Leavitt’s book is much more about exploring one girl’s reaction to her father’s illness as well as the exploration of how life goes on despite hiccups and changes. There’s a little romance here, too, but it’s more of a sweet addition to the story than anything else. Balancing humor and seriousness, this is one that I’d recommend to all contemporary YA fans.
Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt. Bloomsbury: 2011. Library copy.