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Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Review

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Twelve year-old Moose Flanagan has an unusual address: Alcatraz Island. He and his family live on the island off the San Francisco coast back in 1935 when it was still home not only to “278 of America’s worst criminals” but also to the prison guards and their families. Living and working so closely with the other civilian families on Alcatraz offers opportunity for some tight-knit relationships but also for plenty of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and grudges.

No one knows these mixed emotions better than Moose. He’s one of the most well-meaning kids you’d ever meet, but he’s quickly finding out that you just can’t please everybody all the time. His best friend, Jimmy, has started to suspect that Moose’s praise of his less-than-stellar baseball skills might not be completely genuine. Annie (who may want to be more than just Moose’s friend) is sulking because she has begun to suspect that Moose’s friendship might be based solely on her outstanding pitching arm. And Moose himself is starting to believe that introducing his best mainland friend, Scout, to the warden’s daughter, Piper, might have sabotaged his own chances at romance with the cute but increasingly moody girl.

Moose is also experiencing conflicting feelings now that, thanks to the influence of convicted mobster Al Capone, a prisoner on Alcatraz, his older sister Natalie has been admitted to a special school for kids with autism. He misses his sister, sure, but he also welcomes the freedom of not having to watch or worry about her all the time. And he can now see firsthand how much freer his mother is when she’s not saddled with her own worries about Natalie. But when Al Capone calls in a favor from Moose in return for Natalie’s placement at the school, Moose’s life is about to go from complicated to downright dangerous as he finds himself at the center of an elaborate escape plot. It’s no wonder why he’s broken out in hives! Is Al Capone a kind, well-meaning inmate or a dangerous schemer? Moose is discovering that with convicts, as with friendships, things are not always as simple as they seem.

Gennifer Choldenko’s award-winning 2004 novel, AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, shed light on a fascinating chapter in American history. In this sequel, she continues to explore the intriguing facets of civilian life at America’s most infamous prison while bringing new depth to the characters of Moose, his family and his friends. Much of the book’s appeal stems from the colorful depictions of the gangsters, thieves and other assorted criminal types who live at Alcatraz and serve as jacks-of-all-trades for the families who reside there, and much of the suspense arises from the tension between these men’s generally harmless demeanors and their genuinely dangerous backgrounds. But AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES gains added depth by focusing on moral issues: Is it possible to do the right thing by everyone all the time? Can a person be simultaneously a criminal mastermind and a tenderhearted soul? Is there such a thing as being kind to a fault?

Choldenko explores these ideas and others, all within the context of a suspenseful and genuinely funny novel, one that is sure to garner just as many fans as its predecessor.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 25, 2011

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
by Gennifer Choldenko

  • Publication Date: January 25, 2011
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • ISBN-10: 0142417181
  • ISBN-13: 9780142417188