Anthony De Sa’s Kicking the Sky is a coming of age narrative in Toronto’s Portuguese community in the 1970s. It involves the murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques and a group of young boys who try to make sense of their neighbourhood after such a horrific event.
Antonio Rebelo, first introduced in De Sa’s earlier novel Barnacle Love, and his friends Manny and Ricky love exploring their neighbourhood and are fascinated by an enigmatic new neighbour. The Jaques murder however raises many parental fears and anti-gay sentiments, and the boys’ lives are irrevocably changed.
There is an abundance of fascinating detail in this story. The slaughtering of a pig, for example, is described in such gory detail that it’s almost enough to turn anyone vegetarian, but it’s also contextualized as a rite of passage within the community – a boy’s ability to participate in the slaughter is seen as a sign of manhood. Scenes of the boys running through a maze of alleyways and leaping over rooftops are rushed off with exhilaration, and we can just feel their thrill at freedom.
I found the subplot about the religious fervour surrounding a piece of food somewhat amusing, yet disturbingly all too imaginable. Antonio’s mortification at being used as an object of worship, coupled with the desperation of the people who are willing to pay for the merest touch of his alleged healing power is a horrific depiction of how people like Antonio’s father are willing to take advantage of other people’s need to believe in something. Even more striking, the local priest’s response to the scam heavily implicates the Church in this institutionalized deception.
De Sa paints a comprehensive portrait of Toronto in the 1970s, and includes glimpses into the seedier aspects of neighbourhood life. Young boys trading sex for money are commonplace in De Sa’s Toronto, and Antonio’s protection from that world appears more a privilege than, as should be, a right. A young girl’s pregnancy leads to her eviction from home and her rescue by a young man maintains a distinctly creepy current throughout.
Nothing is what it seems in De Sa’s Toronto, and the Jaques murder brings everything to a head and forces Antonio and his friends into adulthood.
Thank you to Random House of Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.