Synopsis: Payton Gritas just learned her dad has multiple sclerosis, and to help her cope with the news Payton is sent to the school guidance counsellor. Payton is told to find a “Focus Object”, but instead of an inanimate object she picks Sean Griswold’s head. Before long, the big blonde head blocking the board becomes something more… but falling in love isn’t going to cure her dad. Payton is going to have to change focus and just learn how to deal.
Cover: The artwork is one long picture that covers the entire book making it look like a chalkboard. The front cover portion includes a boy facing away giving the same view that the main character would have sitting behind Sean in class. The board is covered with clues as to what’s to come like pie charts, cycling, and romance. It is actually quite eye-catching, making the reader curious as to what the book is about.
Plot: Teenagers aren’t just dealing with school and the opposite gender, but also family dynamics. It’s good to see a novel about dealing with non-cancerous illnesses and how a kid could learn how to cope with a life-altering experience in a fairly realistic way.
Point of View: The story is told in first-person and really gets inside Payton’s head. If the story was in third-person the reader would not be privy to Payton’s psychological meanderings that allow the reader to better relate to her experience, nor have access to the journal with her focus object exercises which not only reveal a lot about the character but are actually quite amusing.
Character Development: Payton starts out rather oblivious to anything but good grades and organization, but once she discovers her dad’s secret everything about her life becomes disorganized emotionally, mentally, and physically. Having a focus object allows Payton distance herself and eventually get to the point where she no longer needs a buffer between herself and her father’s illness.
Romance: Payton and Sean had been in the same classes for years, but never really noticed each other except on a superficial level. By making Sean her focus object, Payton begins to learn more about the boy and discovers that she likes him as a person and not a distraction. This gradual process of getting to know one another is far more realistic than the at-first-sight phenomenon.
Character: Grady is Sean’s very disturbing best friend. He takes goth to a whole new level, yet also embodies the moral of not judging someone by how they look or dress. Grady is the comic relief, an obstacle to overcome, and a life lesson.
DiY: People say the answers come when you stop thinking so hard, so when you next reach a point where you’re stressing instead of being productive try doing one of Payton’s Focus Exercises and distance yourself from your troubles to gain new perspective. This would also make a good writing exercise for all you aspiring authors.
Quote: The Focus Gods told me to. You don’t mess with the Focus Gods.
The Verdict: I rather enjoyed this novel finding it a nice mix of serious issues, teen angst, and humour. It is not the light and fluffy teen read of Simon Pulse’s RomComs, but doesn’t have the heaviness of Lurlene McDaniel books either. It is more along the line of accessible literary fiction for teens.