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Al Capone Does My Shirts: 09/19/10

cover art

I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for eleven years. In all that time I've never been to Alcatraz. The closest I've gotten to it was via the Oakland / Alameda Ferry as it was headed towards Angel Island. But I've visited it many times in fiction, my latest trip being via Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.

Except for a barebones understanding of the plot, namely, a boy and his family moving to Alcatraz, I had no expectations. I was immediately taken in by Moose, a twelve year old who is taller than average and older than his years because of his sister, Natalie. A special school in San Francisco is the family's last hope for Natalie, if they can only convince them to let her in.

In the background is Alcatraz. Families did in fact live there with their children riding a ferry to the mainland every day for school. Choldenko manages to blend historical events into her story, making Moose's world believable and fascinating.

What won me over though, wasn't Alcatraz. Instead it was the relationship (good and bad) between Moose and Natalie. I had just come off reading a terrible book with a similar theme, Saving Max. Natalie was a breath of fresh air. She is given time to be herself, make mistakes, learn, grow and live. Although the other Alcatraz children ask rude questions about Natalie's condition, they go become her friend on her terms, something that I haven't seen much in fiction.

Comments (4)

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Comment #1: Monday, September, 20, 2010 at 13:52:36


I've heard of this book before, but don't remember details. What was Natalie's condition? was she autistic?

Comment #2: Friday, September 24, 2010 at 19:00:35


Yes, Natalie is autistic although autism is never mentioned by that term. As the author explains, the word autism was coined a few years after the book takes place.

Comment #3: Monday, September, 20, 2010 at 14:50:24

darla d

I have been meaning to read this book for ages - now I definitely have to bump it up my list. I went on a tour of Alcatraz years ago, but it is still very vivid in my mind!

Comment #4: Friday, September 24, 2010 at 19:03:45


It's worth reading. I wouldn't mind a re-read myself.

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