Al Capone Does My Homework

224p. (A Tale from Alcatraz). Dial. Aug. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3472-2.
Gr 6–8—This conclusion to the trilogy picks up four months after Al Capone Shines My Shoes (Dial, 2009). Moose still feels the burden of looking out for his loved ones: protecting his father, newly promoted to Associate Warden; and caring for sister, whose latest challenge is learning to make eye contact with people. One night when he is babysitting Natalie, a fire breaks out in the family's apartment. Moose fears it's his fault because he fell asleep, and the resentful Trixle family blames Natalie. Moose and the Alcatraz kids (Piper, Annie, Jimmy, and Theresa) band together to find out what really caused the fire. Adding to the mystery, island residents are suddenly receiving anonymous gifts. Multiple reveals keep the pages turning quickly. Choldenko is unsurpassed at interweaving plot with historical detail, drawing a touching parallel between Natalie and first-term President Franklin Roosevelt. She uses Capone's celebrity status as a foil to Moose's father, which helps the 13-year-old appreciate his father's understated strengths. The trilogy ends on an uplifting note for Moose and Natalie. Choldenko hints that Natalie's math skills could lead to a meaningful life for her and Moose won't always have the weight of the world on his shoulders. His dad reassures him: "All you can do is try to inspire each person to be their best self." While the book ably stands alone, it delivers a satisfying conclusion to readers who've grown fond of this cast of characters.—M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY
It's 1936: Moose Flanagan (Al Capone Does My Shirts; Al Capone Shines My Shoes, rev. 9/09) is now thirteen years old, and his father has been promoted to associate warden of Alcatraz. Moose is wracked with guilt when he dozes off while babysitting his sister, Natalie, and wakes to discover that the family apartment is on fire. Blame settles on Natalie, who is autistic and has never been tolerated, let alone embraced, by many in the island's community. But Moose suspects arson, worried that his father's new position at the prison means targeting by the dangerous Alcatraz convicts, who always seem to have a sphere of influence reaching far beyond their tiny prison cells. Moose gradually comes to realize that his father has enemies on both sides of the bars. Choldenko's multifaceted novel offers something for everyone -- history, mystery, intrigue, and humor. Ultimately, though, it's this extremely likable boy working through friendships and crushes, on the one hand, and wrestling with family and community problems, on the other, that has held our attention through three books. jonathan hunt

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