Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt <website • twitter>
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Multiple Sclerosis, sick parent, focus project, counseling
Format read: Purchased the paperback after Lori recommended I read this book.
Summary: After Payton finds out her father has Multiple Sclerosis and stops speaking to her family for keeping the secret from her (for 6 months!) she finds herself in counseling sessions. Her assignment is to find a focus object to help her sort through all of her feelings.
Oh, the days of alphabetical order. I was always at the very end of the line because my maiden name started with a Z. But Payton finds herself in the middle of the alphabet (as a G), and always has to sit behind Sean Griswold in biology class. He has a big head and sometimes it’s a bit distracting when Payton’s trying to take notes and see the board.
It (yep, his head) becomes her focus object when she begins sessions with the school counselor. The focus object is supposed to help her sort through all of her feelings and emotions about her family neglecting to tell her about her dad’s Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. She just happened to walk into her parent’s bedroom while her mother was administering a shot for her dad. Payton shuts them out — she quits basketball (the sport she and her dad loved to bond over) and stops speaking to them entirely.
Naturally, her mom intervenes. Yippie?
This counselor is super strange and her methodology a bit unorthodox. She tells Payton to find a focus object (thinking it would be something simple and inanimate) to journal about. But of course in her act of defiance, Payton chooses Sean’s big head. She and her best friend Jac, who happens to be quite obsessed with the male population, manipulate their way into Sean’s life by stalking him and finding ways to intercept him in hallways. A series of lists, graphs, pie charts, and Sean factoids ensues.
The problem with this focus project is Payton falls for Sean.
He introduces her to bike riding (of the competitive sort) and gives her something to put all her energy into that she used to exhaust during basketball practices and games. She is able to open up to him about all the complexities of her family situation, and instead of being scared away, he reacts in the kindest, most sincere way. (Nope, not telling you what’s involved — read the book!)
Lindsey Leavitt did a phenomenal job tapping into the mindset of a younger high school student — one who is very mature, but also has a lot to learn about life. There’s a lovely balance of friendship, family, and first love. And just as Estelle mentioned in her review of None of the Regular Rules, it was so refreshing to see two girls who are such close friends sort through some difficulties. Oftentimes, friendships in YA seem to be either/or — either they’re perfect or the best friends seem so mismatched and uncharacteristically paired. When it came to Jac and Payton — they’re definitely opposites in just about every way, but they’re very self-aware and (typically) know how to use their strengths to help the other through a tough time.
I know most of you are probably excited about the strong family element, but maybe a little shied away because I mentioned a sick parent. Please note that you shouldn’t be afraid. Sure, I’m kind of a sucker for a good melancholy story, but Leavitt maintained a carefree tone. She certainly didn’t shy away from sharing Payton’s feelings and emotions, but she treated Payton like the strong, brave girl she is without dwelling on the sadness.
Maybe if you’re new to Lindsey Leavitt’s work like I was, you should check out Sean Griswold’s Head and then follow up with Going Vintage — they’re both strong contemporary stories about very real, original girls trying to find their way through the chaos of high school.