Friday, November 06, 2009

Growing up on Alcatraz

Al Capone Does My Shirts Gennifer Choldenko

Moose Flanagan's family has just moved to Alcatraz, where his father is a guard and electrician. Not only is he now living next door to such notorious criminals as Al Capone, he has to make new friends, take a boat to school, and deal with Piper, the warden's daughter who manipulates everyone into going along with her schemes. To top it all off is his sister Natalie. Moose can't remember how many times Natalie has turned 10, but it's the only way his mother can cope with modern readers will recognize as severe autism. Moose's parents have tried everything possible with Natalie and their unflagging optimism and hope means the Moose feels he's missing out on a normal childhood and his parents' attention.

I think I'm one of the last people in the universe to read this. It won that Newbery Honor in 2005 and while it definitely deserves the prize for literary quality, it's also a book that kids will (and do) like. Moose is in this weird place where exaggerated stories of life on Alcatraz make him popular with the kids at school, but it also complicates things. Choldenko gives us a good sense of space and location as the kids run all over the island in their schemes and games. What I most loved is the complicated relationship Moose has with Natalie. He often resents all the expectations his parents place on him (like when he can't go play baseball with his new friends because he has to watch Natalie) and all the time and effort they spend on her, but at the same time, he is very protective of her and cares about her so much. To the point where he's willing to risk it all to do what's best for Natalie...

Book Provided by... my local library

Al Capone Shines My Shoes Gennifer Choldenko

Yay! A sequel! Not much time, just a few months, has passed since we last saw Moose, Natalie, Poper, Jimmy, Scout and Theresa on Alcatraz. Moose has been enjoying his time with just him and his parents, and feeling guilty about it. Luckily, Natalie is coming back when her school goes on semester break. Natalie has definitely changed and has gotten a lot "better," but all the means is she's started using pronouns and expressing some of her emotions and feelings. Moose starts to realize that there's an area between Natalie and "normal" and that Natalie can improve and sometimes get out of the world she's trapped in, she will never be like everyone else, and maybe that's all they can hope for and maybe that's enough. Trixle, of course, still goes out of his way to do what he can to drive her from the island. We also get to meet Trixle's daughter, Janet. Piper gets a lot more real as her mother is expecting and all her dad can talk about is how much he wants a boy and oh, the romantic entanglements...

PLUS! This is Alcatraz and now that Capone did something for Moose, Moose has to do something for him, and 105 is on the outside now and has been in contact with Natalie...

A wonderful follow up that doesn't disappoint. It's less about Natalie and Moose and more about Moose's relationship with his friends on the island, especially Jimmy. (Ok, and the romantic entanglements with Piper and Annie, but I liked the Jimmy stuff best. You don't get enough examples of male friendship issues in books that read like actual male friendships instead of girl friendships with boy characters.) Piper also becomes a lot less flat, which is good for her (I wouldn't have called Piper a flat character before, but she was a lot less explored in the first book.) We also see a lot more the politics involved in the adult world of Alcatraz (petty "office" politics, not national politics) but in a way that still makes sense for the kids to know about.

Book Provided by... ARC given to me by a fellow librarian who got it at ALA

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1 comment:

Hazra said...

I read a couple of reviews of this book on other blogs, and it sounds really interesting. I love the titles of the books :)