Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
|Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Gorgeous story of a boy living on Alcatraz island in 1935. Warm, humorous and full of wisdom, this is a sequel to a previous novel, but reads perfectly well as a stand-alone.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: September 2009|
It's 1935 and Moose, the son of a prison guard, is living on Alcatraz Island. His most notorious neighbour is none other than Al Capone. And Capone has done Moose a favour - somehow, he's managed to get Natalie, Moose's autistic sister, into the Esther P Marinoff school, where she'll get specialist help. Nobody must ever find out though - Moose's father would get the sack and they'd be thrown off the island, at the mercy of the Great Depression.
But of course, favours from mob bosses don't come free. And when Al Capone sends Moose a note telling him that his wife loves yellow roses, and when Mae Capone is coming visiting very soon, the secret is getting more and more difficult and more and more dangerous to keep...
This is actually Choldenko's second book about Moose. The first, Al Capone Does My Shirts, was a Newbery Honor winner. Shoes reads perfectly well as a stand-alone novel though - there's a crisp and efficient bit of exposition at the beginning and we're away. It's a lovely story, about the domino-topples that are inevitable when you do something bad even if it is for the right reason, about the fine line between white lies and two-facedness, and about friendship and loyalty and courage and grief.
Life on Alcatraz Island is much as it is anywhere else, but it's overlaid with an amount of claustrophobia that tends to magnify the problems. It's fertile ground for story-telling, of course, and we watch as Choldenko covers sibling rivalry, workplace bullying and marital tensions with her usual light and deft touch. Natalie, the autistic child, is beautifully drawn and so are the varying reactions to her. Moose, of course, is a real sweetie, but you can see why some of his friends don't always think so - and so, by the end of the book, can he.
Thanks to Holes, Louis Sachar has a bigger name in the UK than Choldenko - but her books will appeal to his fans. They're warm and funny and wise, with that slight nod to the absurd that all children love. Recommended.
My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
If they enjoy this kind of warm and wise but realistic story, I think they'll also like The Mighty Crashman by Jerry Spinelli which has some of the same tensions in the relationship between Moose and Jimmy. Castlecliff by Elizabeth Pulford is set on Britain's coast and will have similar appeal.
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