Monday, October 29, 2007

review: Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko

I had to read this book once I learned that it is about little kids who lived on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to purchase Alcatraz Island and live there. (Plus, it's a Newberry Honor Book, so it sort of counts towards my goal.)

The book centers around a family: a mother, a father, a "ten" year old sister, and a twelve year old brother, our protagonist, Moose. The family has just moved to Alcatraz Island where the father works around the clock at two jobs so that the sister, Natalie, can attend a prestigious and expensive school for children with mental issues. Natalie has what would today be called autism.

Moose Flanagan's view of life perfectly depicts the struggle between loving someone and half wanting them to go away. He loves his sister, but she complicates his life in ways that most twelve year old boys don't have to deal with. Also, he illustrates the loneliness of the "okay" sibling. All of the family's resources and time seem to be poured into Natalie, leaving Moose with many responsibilities and few perks.

The feeling of this book stayed with me--mostly via the setting. The images of children on the island, taking a boat back and forth to school everyday, lingering just beyond the field where the prisoners play baseball, hoping to catch a ball, having their laundry done in the prisons.

So, the term is overused, but "heartwarming" definitely applies here.

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