Thursday, 19 March 2009

Al Capone Does My Shirts (Gennifer Choldenko)

--The blurb--
"When Moose Flanagan and his family move home, yet again, and become residents of the famous prison island Alcatraz, things get interesting. First of all, they share the island with a few other families and a lot of pretty heavy-duty criminals including Al Capone. And secondly, Moose's sister is starting a new school, which everyone hopes will help her become more integrated with those around her. When Moose comes up with some pretty cunning money-making schemes based on his famous co-residents, he does not count on his sister becoming inadvertently involved. This is a charming, funny and utterly enchanting book that skilfully and delicately weaves a humorous tale with some important issues."
blurb from

--The review--
Having heard about this one during my own visit to Alcatraz in early 2007, it had been on my mental list of books to read since catching sight of the unconventional title. It is aimed at teens and pre-teens aged 11-14, and so perhaps unsurprisingly I whizzed through it in a night, and as this perhaps reveals, it was worth it.

Painting realistic adolescents and children is often a challenge for adult authors, but Choldenko did a sterling job: Moose was stroppy, both with and without good reason, and macho, but also protective, contemplative, and slightly shy. This trend continued with all of the characters, from the neurotic mother to the hardworking and more laid-back father. Natalie took a little getting used to, primarily due to her speech patterns, but I've worked enough with children on the autistic spectrum to know that once you have met one autistic child, you certainly haven't met them all, so I ultimately felt able to buy into this.

More could have been said about the layout of the island, as just putting a photo in the front of the book and labelling it seems a bit of a cop-out. However, generally speaking you could imagine the surroundings perfectly adequately, from the poky apartment to the San Francisco school. The scheme on which the book is centred is ingenious, and it is rendered even more striking by the emotional backdrop of Moose's family, against which it is set. The end is both happy and chilling even if somewhat improbable (in fact, its improbability almost makes it better), and the author's endnote is helpful, informative, upbeat and personal in equal measure.

While the settings and action of the book could not be further from what we as readers know and from what the author herself knows, Choldenko clearly made this her own, investing personal emotion in it as well as deep historical research, which results in a personal, amusing and historically interesting story. Despite being a children's author, Choldenko should be on the 'one to watch' list of many adults too, and I just hope that the follow-up to this, due later this year, is not a total let-down in comparison.

Other works by Gennifer Choldenko
Al Capone Shines My Shoes (released Sept 2009)
If A Tree Falls At Lunch Period (April 2009)
Notes from a Liar and Her Dog (2003)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like your blurb, Im reading the book right now! Its a lot better than the ones other people did. GOOD JOB!! :)