The complexities of a good coming-of-age novel is what makes literature so enjoyable to read. When a writer combines what their protagonist is: feeling, seeing, hearing and trying to understand into a well-crafted collection of words, then an element of the human condition is described to the world and the world learns a bit more about itself. And that is exactly what Anthony De Sa has done in his novel Kicking the Sky.
I walked my bike home quickly. My throat had tightened and the tightness drilled painfully right down into my chest. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. My fingers found the front door handle. Making my way down the stairs into the basement, I breathed in the familiar smell of old paper and worms. The floor was painted concrete – battleship grey – and some of the walls were covered halfway up with wood panelling. At the far end of the open space was a bathroom with a large shower, which my father used when he got home from a dirty day of digging, and where Terri and I showered after we came home from the beach and needed to rinse off the sand. It was next to the laundry area and across from the stove – every self-respecting Portuguese family had a second kitchen in the basement they used daily. The kitchen upstairs was just for show and it was rarely used. There was an old back seat of a Chevy my father had brought home one day with a console television, which stood next to the doorway to our adega, where fat-bellied oak barrels rested on large wooden blocks. An old hospital sheet, St. Michael’s Hospital branded on its side, hide the wine. I was relieved to see that everything looked the same.
De Sa has written a brilliant novel documenting growing up in Toronto in the 1970s. The story deals with 12-year-old Antonio Rebelo. While his parents work, Antonio and his best friend Manny and Ricky explore the area of laneways, garages, empty lots and rooftops that make up their section of Toronto. But their world shatters when another young boy of their neighbourhood is brutally raped and murdered. Who to trust and who not to trust comes into question.
My mother wouldn’t let me go out with my friends. she said my friends weren’t allowed out either. I knew Ricky’s dad didn’t really have rules for him, so he didn’t count, but my mother was wrong. Manny’s parents hadn’t cranked up the rules in their house. Manny and Ricky had been hanging around without me. But I saw the worry on her face and stopped pushing. She had to go back to work, so she left long lists of chores for us to do, things to keep us at home and out of trouble – polishing the brass doorknobs, dusting the gumwood baseboards on the main floor, and vacuuming the living-room broadloom so that the stripes the vacuum cleaner left wouldn’t get messed up. I noticed that one of the jobs on my sister’s list was to take over to Senhora Gloria some mail that had been accidently delivered to our mailbox.
“I’ll drop off the letter if you Windex the windows,” I said.
“Here’s what you can do,” Terri said. “Drop off the letter and lug the hampers down to the basement.”
“What’ll you do off my list?”
“Nothing.” She looked smug, like she knew perfectly well the reason I had offered the trade.
De Sa also documents the conflicted emotions of growing up within an ethnic community while living in a urban North American society. The issues he brings up are common among many young people in our modern age.
Sunday morning, I woke to the sound of stones being thrown at my bedroom window.
I pressed my face to the mesh screen and yelled through clenched teeth, “Are you nuts? What time is it?”
“That thing freaks me out,” Manny said, glaring at Jesus on our lawn.
My father had spruced Jesus up by applying Spackle to its chipped nose and painting its flaking face. the sacred heart, the size of an India-rubber ball, burst through Jesus’s robes, shiny from a fresh coat of glossy red nail polish. My father had also cut some Plexiglas in the outline of the tub, caulked and screwed it in place, trapping Jesus in a sweating coffin.
“Manny, it’s seven in the morning on a Sunday.”
“I like to work early,” he said. “Listen, if you don’t want to come, let me know. Believe me, I like working alone.” Before he even finished the sentence I had started to get dressed. I didn’t need him to get any louder and wake my parents. I slipped on my shoes when I got to the front gate, the followed Manny to mouth of the laneway opposite ours. This was not our territory. It was Amilcar’s. “Follow my nose. It always knows,” Manny sang in Toucan Sam’s dorky voice.
“I don’t like this.”
“Then stay home!” Manny shot back.
Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa is a brilliant coming-of-age novel. Anybody who has this on their ‘to-read’ list should make a serious effort to go out and read it. It is a great piece of literature that enlightens any reader’s mind.