When middle-aging dentist Keith Gillies sees the name ""Shirley Upshaw"" on an office door, he's flooded with memories from his late 1930s Toronto childhood--and the rest of this sweet, mild first novel is a first-person flashback to eleven-year-old Keith's home worries, school antics, and, especially, his relationship with poor little Shirley. Why ""poor"" Shirley? Because she's an orphan being raised by her crazy, possessive, cruel grandmother--the Gillies' neighbor--and because, as a result, she's a haunted loner who dresses funny and draws taunts from other kids. What's more, Keith eventually learns how Shirley was orphaned: her father (also a victim of old Mrs. Upshaw's grasping) killed Shirley's unwed mother and was hung for it--a crime that the old grandmother keeps in the forefront of her sick mind. So nice Keith tries to bring Shirley out of her shell--walking her home, sending her notes--while sorting out his own problems at home: his ""Uncle Durham"" (an old family friend) has moved in as a houseguest; Keith, sent home sick from school one day, overhears a scene of frustrated passion between his mother and rakish Durham; and ""what made it infinitely worse was the realization that deep down beneath my shabby pile of hatred, I liked Durham better than I liked my father."" Happily, however, Durham eventually leaves town--but so does Shirley, whose grandmother's death releases her just as she and Keith are approaching puppy love. With colorful period details, offbeat supporting characters, and street-kid dialogue galore (""Don't be a jerkimer, herkimer!""), Gane achieves a fair measure of atmosphere; and Shirley's predicament, though probably better suited to the more modest scope of a short story or YA fiction, does gradually take on some poignancy. Far from distinctive or compelling, but a good-hearted and workmanlike piece of nostalgic sentiment.