Posted by: Lizzie Ross | March 29, 2010

Al Capone in a comedy?

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko (2004), Puffin, 215 pp.

Love the concept. And it could have happened.

We all know who Al Capone is. St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Good Fellas, etc. Not a pleasant guy. But evidently he also set up the first soup kitchens during the Depression, so he was a murderer with a heart of gold.

Anyway, the point here is that our hero, Moose Flanagan, moves to Alcatraz with his parents and autistic sister, and lives a strange year amongst the other children there–most noteworthy is the warden’s beautiful bad-girl daughter, Piper. It’s 1935, and Capone is one of the prisoners whose jobs include laundry, sewing, gardening, and apartment repair for the guards and their families. (Machine Gun Kelly is there as well, but he doesn’t get much attention.)

How much trouble can a kid get into on a “twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water”? Plenty, and most of it traces back to Piper’s efforts to capitalize on Capone’s presence.

Parts are funny, parts are tense, parts are baseball-oriented. Moose’s sister Natalie provides the emotional fulcrum, and there’s a brief visit by Capone’s mother that I can almost see in the movie version. It all combines to provide a good afternoon’s read. I may even pick up the sequel, Al Capone Shines My Shoes.

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