Toronto Book Awards: Kicking the Sky

TBA imageWe’re happy to welcome our 2014 Toronto Book Awards blogger, Kim MacMullen! Kim will be reading and reviewing the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

First up is Kicking the Sky a novel by Anthony De Sa (Doubleday Canada). Anthony De Sa will be reading at the The Word On the Street on September 21st, at 11:30 AM and again at 4:30 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


Taking place against the backdrop of the real-life 1977 rape, torture, and murder of 12-year-old Emanuel Jaques, Kicking the Sky tells the story of Antonio Rebelo, a 12-year-old Portuguese boy,  and the toll that the shocking murder took on “Toronto the Good.” While Emanuel’s brutal death serves as a running backdrop and the catalyst for the major events of the book, the story is focused on Antonio’s relationships with his friends, family, and community as he navigates the tricky waters of adolescent sexuality and the everyday difficulties of being a pre-teen boy, albeit in the midst of extraordinary and tragic circumstances.

Book Cover_Kicking the skyWe meet Antonio and his two best friends, Manny and Ricky, as the boys are organizing a trip to Yonge Street to find the missing Emanuel (without their parents’ knowledge, of course), unaware that the boy is already dead and that his body is about to be discovered above a downtown body rub parlour. News of the murder transforms Little Portugal from a trusting neighbourhood with unlocked doors and bikes flung onto front lawns into a frightened, suspicious community who won’t let their children go to the bathroom alone at school. Protests are organized, doors are locked, and demands of justice and change are made. The Yonge Street strip is targeted, as is the gay community, leading to rampant homophobia, beatings, and the exodus of gay residents from their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, constant abuses are tacitly committed against the community’s children, often at their own hands, with little or no fanfare or outrage. Ricky and Manny’s side jobs are the stuff of parents’ nightmares, a 15-year-old girl is impregnated by her step-father and thrown out of the house for her sins, and Antonio is exploited by his father when he sees the face of Christ in a limpet shell. And then there’s James, the 21-year-old newcomer to whom Manny, Ricky, and Antonio turn for companionship and what they call protection, whose questionable friendship proves anything but protective. Over the course of the story, the boys sink deeper into the kind of behaviour and circumstances the community dreads, culminating in an unforgettable ending with at least some resolution and growth from the neighbourhood’s adults.

Simultaneously funny, horrifying, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, Kicking the Sky is a compulsively readable coming-of-age story about both Antonio and Toronto itself that captures the confusion and complexity of navigating adolescence, along with the seismic shift that a community can experience in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy. Growing up isn’t easy—even less so in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Antonio, Ricky, and Manny—but we get through it, if we’re lucky, folding our experiences into our developing identities. Antonio and the city do make it through the events and fallout of that summer, but, for better or worse, neither can fully recognize themselves on the other side.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERAnthony Da Sa’s first book Barnacle Love a was a Toronto Book Awards finalist in which year? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews, and more chances to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.

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