Up to Low
Al Stray is manager of the Port Credit Public Library.
Up to Low, like Doyle’s two previous books, opens in Ottawa — albeit an Ottawa of 1950. The book is divided into four sections of varying lengths, and the author uses the first 40 pages to introduce a varied cast of characters. Among the memorable are eccentric Aunt Dottie, who is fussier than Felix of the Odd Couple; Frank (an alcoholic); Baby Bridget; 100-year-old Crazy Mickey; and Mean Hughie.
Though we don’t actually come face to face with Mean Hughie until well into the story, he clearly dominates the scene. Everyone between Ottawa and the Gatineaus seems to have heard of him. Through a series of flashbacks during a six-hour, often-interrupted, 40-mile trip in a new 1950 red Buick, we are given glimpses of Mean Hughie. The reason for his name becomes evident.
The story unfolds through Young Tommy’s eyes. A somewhat rushed romance between him and Baby Bridget, the other teenager in the book, is used to reveal and resolve the main conflict — i.e., the estrangement between Baby Bridget and her father, Mean Hughie.
Up to Low was named the CLA 1983 Children’s Book of the Year. No doubt teenagers will be attracted by the glossy cover and large clear type if not by the content. Unlike his first two books, Hey Dad! (1978) and You Can Pick Me up at Peggy’s Cove (1979), this one does not deal with contemporary teenagers. Rather, it is a piece of nostalgia reminiscent of the series of books written by Harry J. Boyle about growing up in southwestern Ontario in the 1920s (e.g., Mostly in Clover, Paperjacks, 1972).