Sean Griswold’s Head, by Lindsey Leavitt;
Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers:
New York, 2011; $16.99
Her parents lie about her father’s multiple sclerosis (MS), a potentially deadly disease of the central nervous system. Her best friend flirts with her older brother. A school counselor wants to meet with her. A boy’s head becomes the focus of her life. Payton Gritas, a high school freshman and the protagonist of Lindsey Leavitt’s Sean Griswold’s Head, is experiencing an emotionally difficult time.
Payton, an organized girl who uses different colored highlighters—“yellow for literary devices, pink for plot points, orange for conflict”—finds her life in conflict. Although her parents lie to protect her from the reality of her father’s MS, Payton obsesses with her father and his serious disease. To get back on track, she starts a focus journal and chooses the head of Sean Griswold as her focus. After the death of Ripley, my puppy, I looked at Ripley’s pictures and remembered our past times together, but I never once considered concentrating on a classmate’s head. However, the more Payton studies Sean’s head, the more curious she becomes about him. When Jac, her best girl friend, encourages her to stalk Sean, Payton ignores her family for Sean.
As the story evolves, Payton learns the source of Sean’s scar, undergoes changes in her relationship with Jac, and starts a bike-riding hobby. Instead of only worrying about MS, Payton now decides to ride 75 miles on her bike to raise money for MS research. Payton’s efforts remind me of what I did last May: I jogged five kilometers in the Race for the Cure to help those women I know who suffer from breast cancer.
Although I wish the author had also included titles for each numbered chapter, I do like the way she uses words to paint a picture. For example, to describe the anger of Payton’s mother, the author writes, “She’s like a pop bottle that has rolled around in a car for a few days.” These words enabled me to imagine the mother’s rage exploding like a geyser of soda. When exercising, Yessica, the trainer, tells Payton and the other students to imagine a jungle in which they are thirsty and biking away from a jaguar; Yessica’s details about the African wilderness reminded me of my trip to Tanzania where I saw the “water and fat antelope” that Payton can only pretend to see.
This book reminds me of the importance of focusing—on my homework, tennis lessons, horseback riding, jogging, and learning to relax. By focusing on her father and his disease, Sean’s head, and then Sean as a person, biking, avoiding a best friend, and not communicating with her family, Payton eventually learns to focus on herself and what will make her happy.