Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Anthony De Sa

OECTA member’s novel captures 1977 Toronto through the eyes of a 12-year-old

In his first book, Barnacle Love, Anthony de Sa reached back to his heritage to explore various themes drawn from the Portuguese community “back home” and Toronto’s Little Portugal. The collection of short stories was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2008 and the City of Toronto book award.

In his recently published novel, Kicking the Sky, Anthony, who is a teacher librarian at Michael Power/St. Joseph Catholic High School in Etobicoke, brings back some of the characters and themes from Barnacle Love, including the book’s main character Antonio Rebelo. The story is set in Toronto in 1977, in the wake of the disappearance and subsequent brutal murder of Emanuel Jaques, the 12-year-old Portuguese “shoe shine boy.”

I recently had an opportunity to talk with my former colleague about his new book and its success.

Bianka: When I started reading your book, it was hard to put down. I also read the great reviews in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Clearly, Kicking the Sky is a great book! How does it feel to be a celebrity?

Anthony: I’m not a ‘celebrity,’ but I’m certainly getting a lot of attention because of my book, which is wonderful. I have been very busy lately, giving interviews, doing book promotion and other related activities. I also participated in the International Festival of Authors at Toronto’s Harbourfront. But it is all good and it brings me a lot of satisfaction. As a teacher, you learn how to work hard and in my case, it also gave me the discipline for my writing.

Bianka: What has been the reaction at your school to your book?

Anthony: It has been fantastic! I’m so thrilled. Everyone has been so supportive; colleagues, students, administration. Michael Power is a great school and I love working there. Even the new director of the Board, Angela Gauthier came to my book launch and has been so supportive! I believe that it is so important in our profession to celebrate the achievements of teachers, and how talented they are in so many different areas.

Bianka: In Kicking the Sky, you focus on the immigrant Portuguese community in Toronto. Would you consider having your book published in Portugal?

Anthony: My editor in Portugal is looking into the possibility of translating it. However, my novel is not an “immigrant story.” It is a book about the community, its struggles, challenges, togetherness and the relationships within it. And it is also about family and friendship.

Bianka: When Emanuel Jaques was murdered in 1977, you were 11 years old, living with your immigrant parents in Little Portugal. How did this event affect you and is your story in any way autobiographical given the fact that your main character, Antonio, is a 12-year-old boy?

Anthony: The story is completely fictional. I had to distance myself as an author from the characters and the events to be able to write it. The story has a universal theme about growing up and about family. The murder serves as a backdrop for the story. I remember it very well from my childhood, when it happened, however it did not affect me directly. It did however affect my family, friends and definitely my community.

When we were young, Yonge Street was a very different place than it is today. We would drive up and down the street because it was electric, magical, exciting and dangerous, so we were drawn to it. We were latchkey kids, free to roam the city, to go wherever we wanted. After that terrible murder, it changed. It changed the way we saw the city, it changed the way my family interacted with us children. It was a pivotal moment in my personal life and I always felt that the story had to be told. I have been writing this story in my head since it happened. One of the serious issues I dealt with in the novel is that our parents had to work so hard to support the family and so they were often absent in our lives. As a result they felt this incredible amount of guilt.

Visit Anthony’s website at