On a summer day in Toronto, 1977, a young shoe shine boy named Emanuel Jaques was lured away from his friends with the promise of making easy money. Four days later, his body was discovered, Emanuel having been brutally raped and murdered. It was the murder that changed Toronto the Good forever, and especially the city’s Portuguese community.
Antonio Rebelo was a twelve year old boy without a care in the world when this murder happened. He spent his days on his bike exploring the laneways and streets of the city with his best friends Manny and Ricky. But everything changed that summer and the boys discovered a deeper, grittier side to the city, an adult world of crime, secrets, cruelty, and danger.
Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa is a fictional work driven by the real life event of the murder of Emanuel Jaques. It takes you back in time to when Toronto’s famed Yonge Street was surrounded by strip clubs, bars, and body rub parlours. And it introduces you to a community full of hardworking people who were struggling to attain their immigrant dreams but watching them slip away.
While the book focuses on Antonio’s point of view, there are so many characters in this book to become attached to. There are Antonio’s parents, working hard to provide for their family, his aunt who works for the newspaper and is writing about the murder, his friends who find themselves pulled into the seedy happenings of the city, the mysterious man who arrived in the neighbourhood after the murder, plus many more. This book is so full of people and their stories, their burdens and dreams, and that is what makes this a wonderful read.
I was born a few years after this event so I didn’t know much about it or what my city was like at the time. We know that cities have a darker side to them but when those parts collide with the good, we all feel thrown into a world we don’t completely understand. These are things that continually happen around us, especially in big cities. And De Sa captures that feeling, the turmoil that people of all ages and walks of life feel when the dark side invades the good. He captures the emotions that led the Portuguese community and the rest of Toronto to demand the city clean up its act, the real-life legacy of the young boy’s murder.
When I picked up this book, I didn’t realize that it is a continuation of De Sa’s first novel, Barnacle Love or that it overlaps with that novel. It doesn’t matter though, the book definitely stands alone. But I do look forward to going back and reading the other book. I’m pleased to have discovered De Sa and his writing. This is an incredible coming of age story set against a tragic backdrop.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.