Saturday, July 20, 2013

Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does my Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko are the first two books in a juvenile historical fiction series with a unique setting.

It's 1935, and Moose Flanagan is not excited about moving to Alcatraz Island. Who would be, right? But Moose is not a convict -- he's a 12-year-old boy. His father has taken a job as electrician and prison guard on Alcatraz, which will pay well enough to enable Moose's sister Natalie to attend a special school in San Francisco. Natalie's special needs have always dominated family life for the Flanagans, and Moose's parents hope that the Esther P. Marinoff school will enable Natalie to live a normal life. Moose just hopes that, once Natalie is away at school, life will finally settle into a normal pattern. He loves his sister, but he also resents the special attention she gets -- and feels guilty for that resentment. Life on Alcatraz sure is an adjustment, though. There are few kids of Moose's age, and even fewer who are interested in his favorite sport, baseball. And, of course, there's a cell block full of America's most dangerous criminals right around the corner. When Piper, the warden's spoiled, mischievous daughter, hatches a plan to profit from Alcatraz's notoriety, Moose must decide whether he will go along or not. And when it looks like Natalie will not be accepted into the Esther P. Marinoff after all, Moose hatches a plan of his own . . .

In the second book in the series, the story of life on Alcatraz continues. Moose faces the consequences of the decisions he made in the first book, and struggles to keep everyone around him happy. There's a lot of drama as friendships, family problems, and budding preteen romance threaten to disrupt Moose's peaceful life -- but an even bigger disruption is brewing in the cellhouse, and the consequences could be far worse than hurt feelings.

Both of these books were great reads. The first book has a tighter focus, dealing more with Moose and Natalie's sibling relationship, while the second book focuses more on the different personalities of the kids living on Alcatraz. Choldenko does an excellent job of character development, though there were a few plot points that stretch credulity. Choldenko also does an excellent job of portraying a character with autism, in the days before that diagnosis even existed. I definitely look forward to reading the third book in the series.

(Al Capone Does My Shirts reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system; Al Capone Shines My Shoes reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher, lo these many moons ago.)

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