Monday, March 17, 2014
A Review of 'Al Capone Does My Shirts' by Gennifer Choldenko
'I want to be on Alcatraz like I want poison oak on my private parts. But apparently nobody cares, because now I'm Moose Flanagan, Alcatraz Island Boy-- all so my sister can go to Esther P. Marinoff School, where kids have macaroni salad in their hair and wear their clothes inside out and there isn't a chalkboard or a book in sight.
'Good Moose. Obedient Moose. I always do what I'm supposed to do.'
When Moose's family moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a guard and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco, he has to leave his friends and his winning baseball team behind. But it's worth it, right? If his sister, Natalie, can get help, maybe his family will finally be normal.
But on Alcatraz his dad is so busy, he's never around. His mom's preoccupation with Natalie's condition (today, it would be called autism) is even worse now that there's no extended family to help with her tantrums and constant needs. And of course, there's never enough money.
When Moose meets Piper, the cute daughter of the warden, he knows right off she's trouble. But she's also strangely irresistible. All Moose wants to do is protect Natalie, live up to his parents' expectations and stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away."
This is a great book. I expected it to be more about Al Capone, but it's mainly about Alcatraz and life on the island. It's also more about the time period. So I wasn't disappointed that Al Capone wasn't a huge presence in the book. I liked that instead, Moose and the relationship he has with his sister Natalie is a bigger focus. To me, it's admirable. He understands his sister in a way that even his parents can't. Natalie has a form of Autism, although no one during this time period has matched that word with Natalie's symptoms yet. I thought it was really sweet that Moose was the only one that could calm Natalie down, even if he wasn't physically present.
Moose's mother's advocacy for Natalie was amazing. For years, she lies about Natalie's age knowing that the younger Natalie is, the more likely that she'll be able to get into a good school that will help her learn to have a life of her own (namely, the Esther P. Marinoff school). She goes back to the school a number of times and makes countless phone calls, takes up giving piano lessons so that Natalie can get the therapy that will help her and that will also help her get the schooling she needs. I can only hope that I can be half as good of a parent as her.
I do wish that I had heard more from Scout and from Moose's father. These characters felt like they could use a bit of work. Piper could also use a little more work. The synopsis on the dust jacket made it sounds like she was a big part of the story and I didn't feel like she was big or round enough to be included in the main cast of characters. She didn't quite live up to what I was told she would be.
I apologize, I'm talking mostly about characters this time. It's a very character-driven book, which I absolutely love. If you also like character-driven books, this is one that a variety of ages can read and enjoy!
I give 'Al Capone Does My Shirts':