Monday, September 10, 2012

An Exercise in Focus and Perspective - Review of "Sean Griswold's Head"

Title: Sean Griswold's Head
Author: Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 2011
Reading Level: 14 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

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.

My Review:

I admit, I did not expect to love this book as much as I did.  But it's nominated for a Beehive Book Award from the Children's Literature Association of Utah and as a children's librarian in Utah, I feel like I ought to support the team.  This year, I've decided I'm going to read all the nominees - or at least give them a fair shot.  I can't vote on them because that's just for the school-age kids, but I'm going to read them anyway.

I would put "Sean Griswold's Head" in the same camp as "Dairy Queen," (I really need to migrate stuff from my old book review blog to this one - that's for later) in that it's family-type comedy narrated by a teenage protagonist who has to come to terms with major changes in her life and she deals with them with snark and jokes, disguising her pain and hurt.  Personally, I love books like this - books that treat teenagers like actual people and not these bizarre Disney Channel/Nickelodeon teeny-bopper caricatures of teenagers.  In this book, Payton Gritas is a realistic teenage girl - she's not overly-dramatic, she keeps a lot of things to herself and, yes, she thinks that she's right all the time.  She's a good student with a friend that is sometimes silly and she has her own little quirks (like spending her Christmas money on a super-expensive day-planner - just because she likes to be organized.  This may sound sad, but I can relate to that on a personal level).

The way she finds out her dad has MS - yeah, I think I'd freak out a little bit too.  The story is less that her dad has MS, it's more that she feels like she's been deliberately lied to about it.  Because her family didn't tell her right away, she feels like they don't appreciate her as someone mature enough to handle it.  Thus, every time she sees her dad having an episode, she doesn't think she can talk to anyone about it because she thinks no one will take her seriously.  She quits the basketball team because it makes her think of her dad, which makes her think of his illness and how her parents kept it from her.

I've done this.  When someone has angered or disappointed me, I do everything I can not to think about that person, even if it means giving things I love because they remind me of that person.  It's weird and silly and a little bit childish, but you almost can't help it.

This is where the titular Sean Griswold's head comes in.

Payton's analysis of Sean's head provides something that she can observe in a controlled way.  She keeps a journal of her observations of his head - and (more and more) her observations of the head's owner.  She starts cycling because it's something that Sean does - and because it's something that has nothing to do with her father.  She even ventures into the Hall of Terror where all the so-called "goth kids" hang out because Sean has friends there.  And, truly, they turn out to be not-so-bad.  Eventually, Payton becomes friends with Sean - and of course, this is where things start going wonky in Payton's life (and I will leave it up to you, Dear Reader, to find out for yourself).

I thought the whole premise was a little odd at first, but maybe it's because I've been dealing with some prickly situations with people I know lately.  I could identify with the need to separate myself from these people and find a completely different outlet to take my mind off my difficulties.  Thankfully, no one I know has any debilitating diseases (that I'm aware of), but Payton's story reflected mine well enough that reading this book was almost therapeutic for me.  That is something I won't soon forget.

(Plus, I thought it was hilarious that both Payton and Sean loved Seinfeld, even though no one else in their age group gets it.  Even Payton's friend Jac told her to lay off the Seinfeld references - before Jac knew that Sean was a Seinfeld fan too.  Uncanny).

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