A scrappy immigrant community in Toronto in 1977 sinks deeper into superstition and violence after a child’s murder; a pubescent boy struggles to comprehend the events in this gritty second book from Canadian De Sa (Barnacle Love, 2008) based on real events.
Confused by his own impulses and the behavior of those around him, 12-year-old Antonio Rebelo is coming of age amid contradictions and perhaps danger. The discovery of local shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques’ body has resulted in demonstrations against the gay community. Nearer to home, James, an attractive, mysterious stranger, possibly a male prostitute, has set up house in a neighbor’s garage. When a local underage girl falls pregnant after sex with her stepfather, James takes her in. Antonio and his friends, one of them serially abused by his father, hang out with James, sometimes stealing bicycles. Then Antonio sees the face of Jesus in a limpet shell and suddenly becomes the local miracle child, a healer and a source of income for his father. De Sa’s novel, a feverish portrait of the impoverished but colorful Portuguese community, is sporadically sympathetic but more often spiky, laden with abusive childhoods, unreliable adults and dangerous sexuality. As the lies, disasters, disappointments and disillusionments accumulate, Antonio’s group of friends and family fractures, and his childhood comes to an end.
A largely bleak vision, top-heavy with angst and tragedy.