Sunday, April 12, 2009

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Moose Flanagan, a 12-year-old boy, lives on Alcatraz Island, a maximum security prison near San Fransisco, California. He lives there with his father, a guard and electrician at the prison, his mother, and his sister Natalie. Natalie has special needs that the doctors in the year 1935 have not been able to diagnose. Moose's parents are trying to get Natalie accepted into a school that will help "cure" her. This story is more about Moose's relationship with his parents and sister, and how his family and new friends on the island address Natalie's condition, than about Al Capone.

Moose is very protective of his sister and at the same time overwhelmed with the responsibility that he is given to take care of her while his mother and father work. The two meet some unusual friends on the island in a Theresa, a 7-year-old and Piper, the warden's sneaky daughter. Despite Moose's best intentions trouble follows as well as some unusual adventures. Gennifer Choldenko, the author, skillfully shows Moose's balance of frustration in a situation he has no control of and his love for his sister.

While this story is completely fictional, the families of workers actually lived on Alcatraz while it was open and the details of the book are realistic. As I read the story I was drawn in immediately. I had no idea that the book was about autism and how this family and the medical world tried to understand the disease. Growing up I had a sister with special needs and found that, just like Moose, I could not communicate with her as I would another person. I often had babysitting duty and I remember trying to teach her things that I thought would help her along. I understood Moose's frustration and his unconditional love for Natalie. I highly recommend this book and will read Choldenko's first novel Notes From a Liar and Her Dog and her future titles!

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