I was looking forward to this book, knowing that it was written from the perspective of a twelve-year-old boy. My own son is eleven, so I thought it might be fun to get inside this character’s head. I didn’t exactly get the results I was hoping for, but I did get a brilliant look into the culture of the Canadian-Portuguese community of Toronto during the late 1970s.
This story takes place right after the rape and murder of Emanuel Jacques, a shoeshine boy from the Azores, in the summer of 1977. Antonio and his friends are affected by the repercussions of this event. People start locking their doors all hours of the day, Antonio’s parents worry more about letting him out of the house, ignorance and cruelty abound in the rumours and actions of angry citizens who want to feel safe again.
I can pinpoint the moment it all started to change, when the calm broke: when news that twelve-year-old Emanuel Jacques had disappeared spread through our neighbourhood in the whispered prayers of women returning from Mass. They gathered along their fences and on their verandas speaking in hushed tones that went silent whenever children drew near. We ignored their anxious looks and their occasional shouts to get home and lock the doors.
Worry about what had happened to Emanuel, the Shoeshine Boy, was closing in on us. Our parents had told us to be afraid, warned us of the dangers lurking on the city’s main drag. But we wouldn’t let their fears stop us. They didn’t understand, but Manny, Ricky, and I did. As long as we stuck together we were untouchable.
In the wake of Emanuel’s disappearance, a stranger comes to the neighbourhood. James is older than Antonio and his friends, but they find themselves gravitating towards him. He offers them protection and friendship, and while Manny and Ricky seem to trust him, Antonio is not as sure.
… it seemed like the person I was now was not the person I would’ve been if Emanuel Jacques had not been murdered, if James hadn’t dropped into our world out of nowhere. I’d never have the chance to be that boy again.
Antonio finds himself plunged into an adult world full of dark secrets that no twelve-year-old boy should ever have to know. Instead of delighting in the thoughts of a pre-teen boy, I felt disturbed by all that he knew, and I wanted to protect him.
This story is unlike any other I have ever read. It is darker than I expected, and it is not a comfortable read, yet I was enthralled with the world the author had created. This story is about community, humanity, compassion, and acceptance. For Antonio, it is about family, friends, growing up, trust, and learning to love yourself.
It’s when you’re afraid of the world that bad things happen.
Remember, when you fight monsters, be careful that you don’t become one.
I looked out the window, up to the needle tip of the CN Tower. It was just over a year ago that a helicopter had hovered above the tower, dangling its final piece, and the city froze. Manny, Ricky, and I had stood in the middle of our street. People got out of their cars like zombies and gathered together to look up. The tallest free-standing structure in the world. We could do anything now.
I wanted to be with my family. So many people don’t know what that feels like.
Anthony De Sa grew up in Toronto’s Portuguese community. His first book, Barnacle Love, was a finalist for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2009 Toronto Book Award. I think I will go check it out! I look forward to whatever is next from Anthony De Sa.
*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.