It was 1977 when a shoeshine boy, Emanuel Jacques, was brutally raped and murdered in Toronto. In the aftermath of the crime, Antonio Rebelo, the twelve-year-old narrator of this story, explores his Portuguese neighborhood’s dark garages and labyrinthine back alleys, along with his rapscallion friends. The boys develop a curious relationship with a charismatic, modern-day Fagin, a fledgling master over an amoral world of young hustlers, theft, and drugs.
As the media unravels the truth behind the shoeshine-boy murder, Antonio starts to see his family—and his neighborhood—as never before. He becomes aware of the dashed hopes of immigrants, of the influence of faith and the role of church, and of the frightening reality that no one is really taking care of him. So intent are his parents and his neighbors on keeping the old traditions alive that they act as if they still live in a small Portuguese village, not in a big city that puts their kids in the kind of danger they would not dare imagine.
Antonio learns about bravery and cowardice, life and death, and the heart’s capacity for love and for unremitting hatred in this stunning coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of a true crime that shook an entire city.