Audiobook Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Audiobook Review: Al Capone Does My ShirtsAl Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Length: 6 hrs, 9 mins
Series: Al Capone at Alcatraz #1
Published by Listening Library on September 8, 2009
Genres: Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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three-half-stars

1935
I want to be on Alcatraz like I want poison oak on my private parts. But apparently nobody cares, because now I’m Moose Flanagan, Alcatraz Island Boy–all so my sister can go to the Esther P. Marinoff School, where kids wear their clothes inside out and there isn’t a book in sight. Obedient Moose. I always do what I’m supposed to do. 

When Moose’s family moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a guard and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco, he has to leave his friends behind. But it’s worth it, right? If his sister, Natalie, can get help, maybe his family will finally be normal.

But on Alcatraz his dad is so busy, he’s never around. His mom’s preoccupation with Natalie’s condition (today, it would be called autism) is even worse now that there’s no extended family to help. And of course, there’s never enough money.

When Moose meets Piper, the cute daughter of the warden, he knows right off she’s trouble. But she’s also strangely irresistible. All Moose wants to do is protect Natalie, live up to his parents’ expectations and stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away.

Though I first heard of this book years ago, I didn’t really know anything about it and wasn’t particularly moved to learn more. It just looked like it would be some sort of book with typical guy humor and gangsters, which just is not my scene. However, I got an ARC of book three, which I totally didn’t get to on time, but I refuse to feel guilty about that since they sent me book three in a series I’d not read. Anyway, that made me want to give the series a shot, and the audiobook was on Overdrive, so I decided to go ahead and try. Surprisingly, Al Capone Does My Shirts turned out to be something else entirely: a story of family, friendship, and a wonderful historical setting.

Above all else, Al Capone Does My Shirts is a story about Moose’s family and how they deal with his sister Natalie’s autism. Set in 1935, there really wasn’t a conception of autism like we have today, so no one really knows how to deal with Natalie. Based on my brief research before writing this review, the use of the term autism as we know today only began in the 1940s, and I doubt it became a common term until much later. The landscape for dealing with such a condition was so different back then, and it’s heartbreaking to watch them struggle with what to do.

Technically, Moose is the younger brother at 12, but to the world Natalie’s still ten. Her tantrums and interests seem to better suit a younger child, so Moose’s parents decided to keep celebrating her tenth birthday every year. Their goal is to get her into a school that’s pioneering new methods to help kids like Natalie, but her age is a concern, as are her temper tantrums and reticence to interact. Moose loves Natalie, but also finds her frustrating, especially when he’s stuck taking care of her every day after school when he would rather play baseball. With the additional time together though, he gets used to her and their bond strengthens, which helps her improve more than anything else. At the opening of the novel, there’s a real sense of shame in their treatment of Natalie, but they come to embrace her more as the novel progresses (though not generally literally, since she doesn’t like that). The community, too, comes to accept Natalie, and it’s really just very sweet and uplifting.

To lighten that rather heavy subject matter, there are also some basic teenage boy issues for Moose to deal with. He gets to play a couple of games of baseball, for which he has a passion, but gets stuck babysitting. Having to drop out of the baseball game severs a friendship, which he has to work to mend. Moose’s other problem is Piper, the cute but obnoxious daughter of Alcatraz’s warden. She gets Moose and the other kids into trouble with her schemes and says lots of insensitive things. Their relationship is really funny as it evolves, because they’re both so obviously doing little kid flirting, which I apparently haven’t evolved beyond, that mostly involves being sort of witty and mean to the person you like.

The setting of this book is awesome. I mean, how many books have you read set on Alcatraz that weren’t about prisoners escaping or trying to escape? List them. I’ll wait. Anyway, there’s great historical information in here, and a fantastic Author’s Note at the end with even more, which I love in my historical fiction. Moose’s family moves to Alcatraz because his dad got a job working as a guard/electrician. Most of the people working on Alcatraz lived there as well, so there’s this little community on a prison island. Learning about that was fascinating.

This is my first experience with Kirby Heyborne, and, though I’m not in love with his narration and desperate to listen to anything he ever narrated, I’m happy with the job that he did. At first, I was sort of bored by his voice, but I got used to him. He doesn’t have the most dramatic narrating style, but he doesn’t sound all that out of place narrating a well-developed twelve-year-old boy, especially since he did a nice job getting the voice cracks in there.

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:

Baseball summer times

4 responses to “Audiobook Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts”

  1. This book has been on my TBR for years – literally. I’m glad you liked it, and I really appreciated your review because I didn’t know much about the book. Just that I wanted to read it.

    I think I might just try the audiobook.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Review: Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara PennypackerMy Profile

  2. Sounds like a very good story. I’m not sure if I like the narrator though…

  3. fakesteph says:

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, but I remember really loving it. I’ve been thinking about going back and reading it again since I recently discovered that it is the first in a series, but I’m disappointed to hear that the narrator is just so-so.
    fakesteph recently posted…Crash Into You by Katie McGarryMy Profile

  4. I might read this — I toured Alcatraz a few years ago and have been a bit obsessed with the families that lived there. They had garden clubs and competitions, cute little houses, etc. But on a prison island!! Blows my mind.
    Audra (Unabridged Chick) recently posted…Weekend reads and I’m home!My Profile

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