Monday, May 29, 2006

Al Capone Does My Shirts

After looking at my list of recent posts (or more accurately, the dates attached), I realized it wasn't fair to blog so irregularly. From now on, I'll try to post every Monday(ish). Of course, more often if I get great new books. In the meantime, cross your fingers for me; I may have a line on a librarian job.

Book: Al Capone Does My Shirts
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Published: 2004

Twelve-year-old Moose’s family moved for his dad’s job. Pretty run-of-the-mill, right? You read this story every day. Well, considering that his dad’s new job is on Alcatraz . . . not so much.

It’s 1935, and the country is hip-deep in the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Alcatraz is full to the gills with the very best celebrity criminals, but none is more famous than Al Capone. Moose would be more excited, if it weren’t for the crazy schemes of the warden’s manipulative daughter, fitting in at a new school, and most of all, taking care of his fifteen-year-old sister.

The family also moved so that Natalie can go to a special school, where she might actually be “cured” of the mysterious condition that manifests itself in obsessive-compulsive behaviors and an inability to connect to others. Moose has seen it all before, though, and he holds little hope that Nat will ever be normal. But when the school rejects her on the grounds that she is too old, Moose cooks up the craziest scheme of them all, just in case.

Choldenko’s writing evokes both the odd world of an everyday kid living on Alcatraz and the experience of a family so focused on one child that the other often falls by the wayside. The part of Moose, and this book, that I loved best was the realistic mix of feelings he has for Natalie. He loves her and is as ferociously protective as either of his parents, but tangled up with that is frustration that he has to sign away so much of his life to her needs, anger that she can’t just be like other girls, and a kind of helpless acceptance that she will never get better, no matter what his mother wants to think. Choldenko notes in an afterword that these days, Natalie would be diagnosed as autistic, a disorder unknown in the 30’s. Pick up this book and hand it to your favorite fan of historical fiction.

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