Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt


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.


The Short Version:
A well done mix of seriousness and romance, with an overall light and humorous air mixing in with the emotions and frustrations that Payton is enduring. With a very distinct voice and protagonist that jump off the page from the start, and a smooth progression of the events of the story, Sean Griswold's Head easily navigates every element easily. Though Payton can be a brat at times, and doesn't always connect the dots of even rather obvious things, she is relatable as a character and her full struggle is grabbing to read.

The Extended Version:
Payton's personality comes off vividly from page one, very Type A and certainly falling into the quirky category, and pitched a way that isn't annoying or frustrating, but rather amusing and understandable. Early on, however, she learns about her father's illness and the abrupt shift in her world has a clear impact on her. Leavitt smoothly portrays Payton's inability to cope, her sometimes frustrating reactions, and inserts plenty of moments of realization for Payton to see things at just the right moment she's ready. Payton goes through fantastic strides in personal growth, and makes some great changes while still holding plenty of aspects of who she was at the start.

Sean is sensitive and understanding, and has a smooth air about him without an overly cocky attitude. He takes things as they come, never getting too upset over small things but still is far from a doormat. He can be stubborn, but not so much that it's annoying or unrealistic, and overall, he makes not only a great love interest but a great friend. There are some cute scenes with Sean, filled with the airiness that comes with budding romance, while still also holding a strong point in the plot for more reasons than being Payton's focus object. He pushes her in ways she doesn't even see right away, and is as well developed and multidimensional as Payton herself.

Even with the focus of the book being on Payton and Sean, the secondary characters also hold strong presences throughout. From Payton's sprightly best friend, Jac, to Sean's out of the box friend Grady, they have very distinct personalities and a notable impact on Payton in one way or another. Her family, too, plays a strong role, and the dynamic both before the news and after comes through clearly and has a lasting effect.

Despite the rough patch Payton is going through, Leavitt does a fantastic job of making this an overall light and cute book. There are plenty of fun moments in it, and she has beautifully weaved a budding romance with everything else in a way that neither overpowers the other, and is very enjoyable to read. Even when Payton's family problems bleed into things with Sean, it is handled realistically and understandably. Nothing felt drawn out, even in Payton's lasting responses, and there was always something new coming in at just the right moment to propel the plot further.

Though some transitions felt awkward for me, especially in a few conversations, there is a smooth flow overall, with a steady plot pace. Leavitt uses some original ways to heal Payton, and though there are quite a few elements to this book, they aren't muddled or left dangling at the end. There are some bold truths in this one, pitched in a gentle way, and Payton gets hit with every one of them, letting the thought come to full fruition when she is ready. A few things were almost annoyingly obvious, but the reason Payton ignores them is explained or implied in a way that negates the frustration.

Leavitt's writing is flirty and fun, mixing between Payton's narration and stream of conscious, and her journal entries. Both hold the same very distinct voice, but is still intelligent and easy to read. There is a smooth flow to the writing, and it does a great job of showing the story and pulling the reader in.

This one is, first and foremost, a romance, but Leavitt has done a great job of blending in some harder issues and setting it up in a way that the diagnosis of Payton's father is the launching point for everything else. Even some potentially cliche romantic moments hold their own twist, without coming off as forced or there just to avoid the cliche. With a very swoonworthy love interest, a mess of a protagonist who is both stubborn and fierce in a soft way, and what is an enjoyable story line, Sean Griswold's Head is a great read for both a feel good and an emotional mood.

Source: ARC Received for review from author in exchange for an honest review 
Reading level: Young Adult 
Hardcover: 288 pages 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2011

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