Priscilla Galloway was an English consultant in Willowdale, Ontario.
There are three schools on Angel Square in an Ottawa of a generation ago. Irish Catholic, French-Canadian Catholic, and Jewish boys spend all their free time in vicious fights. Tommy, who is a “nothing,” usually has his Jewish friend Sammy for protection, but Sammy’s father has been beaten up in a racist attack and is in a coma in hospital. Tommy, alias “The Shadow,” sets out to discover the assailant’s identity. This is the same Tommy of Up to Low. Aunt Dottie and his father are the major adults in his life, but they are less burlesques and more human in the new novel. Aunt Dottie’s passion for cleanliness is no longer caricatured, although it remains extreme. Tommy’s retarded sister Pamela is a happy person, but she needs to be watched carefully or some boys will try to “take advantage.”
Tommy’s experiences around home, working and saving to buy Christmas presents for his family and for the girl he adores from a distance, Margot Lane (!), blend with experiences en route to school and in school itself; gradually Tommy gets some clues to the identity of the masked assailant. Eventually, with French-Canadian help, he gets a promising line and goes, armed with comic books for sale, to the suspect’s apartment. In a really scary scene, Tommy outwits the huge, ugly, stupid man and finds the flour-sack hood under his bed. He spreads the news, and the community come to chant hate at the man’s door. The book ends with a happy Christmas for Tommy and family.
There is an uncomfortable level of violence here, though the book rings true and its moral message is exemplary. Tommy is an appealing character, very human, but showing a mature understanding of other people. Brian Doyle’s writing is powerful and vivid. Boys especially are likely to revel in Angel Square.
Apartheid has not promoted racial tolerance in South Africa any more than separate schools encouraged harmony or understanding in the Canadian society Brian Doyle depicts. Angel Squarefuels in the adult reader huge misgivings about the increasing fragmentation of education systems here today.