Sunday, October 16, 2011

Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko
narrated by Kirby Heyborne
New York: Listening Library, 2009.

Moose Flanagan's father got a job at Alcatraz prison, so he and his parents and his sister, Natalie, have moved to the island from their home in San Francisco. With such a small group of people, including a small number of kids, living on the island Moose isn't sure about anything - making friends, playing ball. He and the warden's daughter, Piper, have to take the ferry in to school, and Piper has a grand plan involving the notorious gangster, Al Capone, who was in the prison in 1935.

I'm not sure why exactly - maybe it was the title, or the cover, or how I'd heard the book described - but I had the idea that this would be a much lighter, humorous book. Instead, what I found was a sometimes funny historical fiction about a boy and his family. Moose is the narrator, and how I saw the other characters, especially Piper and Natalie, was really colored by his interpretation. At the beginning, I thought Piper was a manipulative little chit, but either she grew as a character or on me, because I grew to like her despite her shenanigans. The historical research is clear in the strength of the story and setting, and the author's note bears this out - there is a note on Alcatraz that includes quotes from people who lived on the island (generally people who worked for the prison and their families), and a note on Natalie. Natalie's condition is never named in the story, though I read her as autistic, and the author's note bears that out. I found that her family's dynamics and challenges rang true, and I liked how clear it was that they all love her in their own way, even if they become frustrated at times.

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