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Book Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

May 29, 2012

Welcome to The Rock.

It’s 1935 and Moose Flanagan is 12 years old. He and his family have just moved to Alcatraz Island to live with the “Cream of the criminal crop.” Moose’s father takes on double duties as a Prison Guard and Electrician in the hopes of making enough money to send  Moose’s sister Natalie to a special school. Natalie is 15 years old (10 if you ask her mom) and severely autistic. In 1935 autism was not yet being widely diagnosed so most children like Natalie were sent to asylums. Natalie’s family wants better for her though.

The central theme of the story is Moose’s relationship with Natalie. While his parents dream of someday sending her to the Esther P. Marinoff school (she has already been rejected once) Moose dreams of one day being as important in his parent’s eyes as Natalie is. He feels responsible for his sisters’ condition and resents having to watch her every afternoon. But, Moose is naturally kind-hearted and easy going. In his own words he doesn’t “Like getting in trouble. I was born responsible. It’s a curse.”

Moose must learn to balance his fear of living on Alcatraz next door to criminals like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly, finding a niche in a new school, making friends with his fellow Alcatraz kids and handling Natalie’s fits and constant needs. In typical teenage boy fashion Moose wolfs down double decker sandwiches and 3 pieces of cake in one afternoon snack, breathes baseball and often feels completely out of his element. He is potentially one of the most likable 12 year old male characters I have ever read.

This book is a masterpiece of historical fiction. The author has done more than her fair share of research resulting in the reader walking away with a comprehensive knowledge of what life must have been like for the families that lived on Alcatraz Island during the 29 years that it was a penitentiary. The characters are richly developed, complex and vividly portrayed all with a minimum of wording. This book is 215 pages of delicious prose spiced with humor and real life drama. Highly recommended.

Al Capone Does My Shirts was a 2004 Newberry Honor book.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 8:02 pm

    Great post! I loved this book! It had me in stitches throughout (:

    • Rebecca permalink*
      May 29, 2012 8:04 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Isn’t it a great book! I am fascinated by the characters. So brilliantly done. 🙂

  2. May 29, 2012 11:43 pm

    This book sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to find it, buy it and read it. Thank you!

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