Antonio is a young boy living in the Annex area of Toronto in the 70’s. He spends his days around his family and friends, playing outside and getting into mischief with his two companions. The neighbourhood, and city, are shaken up when the missing boy is found dead in a seedy massage parlour on Yonge Street. Based on the actual disappearance of Emanuel Jacques, De Sa revisits that time when people were angry and afraid of what they didn’t know much about. Being gay and being a pervert were synonymous with each other.
There were times I wondered how much of the book was factual, especially given that the protagonist’s name is basically the same as the author’s first name. There were moments, especially in the beginning, that I felt completely drawn in to Antonio’s childhood that I felt like I was living in De Sa’s memory. The atmospheric world building of Antonio’s neighbourhood and the people that lived there were dynamic, especially given that I am familiar with those very streets having lived there for a year during university.
I love reading stories set in Toronto, and I enjoyed Kicking the Sky‘s captivating plot. Which is why I found it strange that I struggled through it. I had trouble staying focused and felt that individual vignettes in the book are compelling but, at times, I felt it was a bit slow in connecting them all together. That being said, De Sa succeeds in shining a light on a dark, not-too-distant part of Toronto’s history. The horrible crime that Kicking the Sky is based on happened just before I was born, so I was not aware of what the city, and specifically Yonge Street, used to be like. To me, what works in a story is that a novel based on actual locations or events not only shares a tale but urges me to find out more. Often with historical fiction, I’m moved to look up the actual buildings or landmarks that are being referenced. Kicking the Sky does just that – making me want to research more of our city’s past and what the neighbourhoods were once like.