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Weekend Dad

by Naseem Hrab and Frank Viva (ill.)

Divorced and separated dads, when they appear at all in kids’ stories, tend to be grouchy, distracted, hapless, and/or downright awful. They fare better than stepmoms but are almost never taken seriously. Weekend Dad, by Toronto’s Naseem Hrab (Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend), goes a long way toward rectifying this situation with a portrait of a relationship that is brutally honest, beautifully touching, and completely devoid of cliché.

“On Monday morning,” the book’s young narrator tells us, “my dad moved out of the house and into an apartment.” The boy, who sports a sharp bob of red hair and whose best friend is a stuffed hedgehog named Wendell, spends the following weekend with his dad at the new flat, which is sparsely furnished and even lacks a second bed – the kid has to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag. The weekend goes well, despite some initial anxieties. In the end, the boy leaves Wendell behind to keep the father company, and the dad writes his son a tender letter to read while they’re apart. The next weekend, the two of them set out to buy a kid’s bed for the apartment.

Weekend Dad is told entirely through the young protagonist’s matter-of-fact narration, with very little dialogue and even less action (unless packing underwear or eating pizza count). Hrab lets each quiet moment linger and resists the temptation to ramp up the emotion in the direction of either sadness or joy. This is a story about two people sporting a pair of matching broken hearts and slowly figuring out what they still are to each other.

Frank Viva’s restrained hand-inked illustrations match Hrab’s prose perfectly, trusting young readers to grasp the meaning of each moment without having everything explained. The scenes play out without drama, drawing readers closer to the characters, whose faces are at first neutral but slowly reveal depths of emotions. The pair of awkward smiles at the end, as child and father head out on a city bus to find a new bed, glow with hard-won optimism.

This is a book that might not work for all kids, but for children – and parents – who find themselves navigating post-divorce realities, it will feel essential.