Al Capone and Alcatraz. Now there are two subjects you don’t see in kids’ books every day. I was immediately intrigued.
The setting for the book, Alcatraz Island in the 1930s, is well-researched and accurate. But the setting is just the background. I admit I was a little disappointed by that; I wanted more about the island and prison. The story that Choldenko has set in Alcatraz, however, is one I would have enjoyed had it been set in Pittsburgh, so it’s not as though I’m really complaining.
The story is about twelve-year-old Moose Flannagan who has a sister, Natalie, who is not normal. In fact, today she’d be called autistic, but in 1935 the condition was not yet labeled. Moose’s family moves to Alcatraz, where his father works as a prison guard, with the hope that Natalie will be able to attend a special school nearby in San Francisco. Moose’s life revolves around Natalie’s needs, and sometimes he, understandably, resents that.
The trouble is, he’s actually good for Natalie. He has a way with her, and they have a real relationship, even if it’s not “normal.” Moose struggles to balance Natalie’s needs, his parents’ needs, and his own desires to simply be a normal boy.
I think this is an excellent book-club book. There are a lot of issues to discuss, with adults or kids. How do readers feel about the enormous responsibility placed on Moose? How would they feel about making a similar sacrifice?
Now I want someone to write a book with more of a focus on Alcatraz. Last week, I whined (just a little, and jokingly) about the countless books set in WWII. I’ve never read any other books set on Alcatraz.
What are some settings that pique your interest? Have you read any books set in that time or place?
And now it’s your turn. What are you reading?