In 1977 a shoeshine boy, Emanuel Jacques, is brutally raped and murdered in Toronto. In the aftermath of the crime, 12-year-old Antonio Rebelo and his rapscallion friends explore their Portuguese neighborhood's dark garages and labyrinthine back alleys. The boys develop a curious relationship with a charismatic, modern-day Fagin who is master over an amoral world of hustlers, thieves, and drug dealers.
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 both love and unrelenting hatred in this stunning coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a true crime that shook the city.