First sentence: "Harvey was born in a redbrick hospital on a hill."
Even though yesterday was Mother's Day, today I'm writing about Simon Van Booy's newest novel, Father's Day. In this heart-warming tale about what defines a father, six-year-old Harvey loses her parents in a car accident and goes to live with her uncle--her father's estranged older brother, Jason. Their story is told through a series of flashbacks during Jason's Father's Day visit to Paris, where an adult Harvey now lives. Harvey has created a Father's Day box for Jason containing a series of symbolic gifts. Each day Jason removes one of the gifts and opens it during their travels around the scenic city. The unveiling of the gifts are interspersed with flashbacks explaining the significance of the gift in relation to Harvey and Jason's relationship. All of the gifts lead up to mysterious revelation Harvey plans to make to her father.
Jason is a ex-con and a recovering alcoholic with an anger management problem when Harvey comes to live with him. He's disabled from a motorcycle accident and supplements his government assistance by selling things on eBay. Harvey's social worker, Wanda, has a gut feeling that despite these problematic characteristics, he's the ideal placement for Harvey. A veteran of the Children's Services Department, she manipulates the system in order to finagle Jason a trial period as Harvey's guardian, and ultimately the adoption is finalized.
The pair never have a lot, but together they possess everything they truly need and make a complete family. As much as Jason teaches Harvey about life, she reciprocates. They save each other.
Van Booy's stark style makes every sentence burst in this beautiful novel about the value of families, whatever form they take. Jason and Harvey's life together mirrors that spartan style. Jason can't give Harvey a lot of material possessions, grand vacations or elaborate experiences, but she treasures everything they have. He regularly sacrifices for her and she understands the value, seeing the beauty and vulnerability beneath Jason's harsh exterior.
Harvey's voice as a child is as authentic and endearing as Jason's frustrated, adult perspective is empathetic. Van Booy drives home the importance of redemption, even in those society would consider beyond it. Sometimes we need to see those people through the eyes of a child, someone who hasn't learned biases, judgements and most importantly how to hold grudges.
Early in the novel, when Jason is remembering his younger brother--Harvey's first father--Van Booy says, "He considered how memories hold our lives in place but weigh nothing and cannot be seen or touched." The memories in this charming novel hold the lives of Jason and Harvey in place and they hold the readers captive. Harvey's surprise for Jason at the novel's conclusion may not be a surprise for all readers, but it doesn't diminish the powerful theme behind the novel: a father isn't defined by DNA and dad's don't have to be perfect. The best ones are simply present, making those memories with their children.
Father's Day is available from Harper in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062408945) It's also available as an unabridged audiobook download, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, from Harper Audio.
My review today is part of the TLC book tour for Father's Day. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about Simon Van Booy's newest novel.
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.