Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Shines My Shoes. Dial, 2009.
12-year-old Moose Flanagan lives, as those who have read Al Capone Does My Shirts will know, on Alcatraz Island, where his dad works. Al Capone seems to have done him a huge favor by somehow getting his autistic big sister Natalie into a special school, and now it’s payback time – Moose finds a note in his freshly laundered shirt that says “Your turn.”
After agonizing about what kind of favor Capone might be expecting from Moose and how it would mean certain dismissal from his Alcatraz job for Moose’s dad if anyone found out (and good jobs aren’t easy to come by in 1935), Moose does manage to fill Capone’s eventual small request without too much trouble. However, a “bar breaker,” a device that inmates use to gradually stretch apart prison bars, turns up in Natalie’s luggage, and this turns out to be just part of a well-orchestrated and dangerous escape plot that only the children of Alcatraz Island notice and foil.
It’s a fairly claustrophobic life living on a tiny island, most of which is off-limits, with only a few other kids near your own age. Choldenko delves quite effectively into the intricacies of trying to get along with everyone while still being true to your self – Moose, whose charm and main flaw both stem from his desire to please everyone all the time and never make anyone mad at him, eventually comes to the conclusion (helped along by his irritated friends) that sometimes people you like can and should hear the truth from you, especially if you want to get closer to them.
As far as the plot goes, the whole situation of convicts living practically cheek-by-jowl with families is fairly suspenseful, and when you mix in a smart and charismatic criminal like Capone, plus some seemingly trustworthy convicts who are allowed to work in the warden’s own house, the action heats up quickly. Add in Moose’s own personal problems with friends, an attractive but difficult girl, and his sister, and it all adds up to a worthy successor to the first book.
Highly recommended for fans of the first book, as well as any reader ages 9 to 13 who relishes a straight-forward suspenseful tale told by a completely likable character.