Set in 1935, Al Capone Does My Shirts tells the story of Moose, a boy whose family moves to Alcatraz so that his father can work as an electrician. Moose's older sister Natalie has autism (before this was an official diagnosis) and his mother is desperate to find a school that will help prepare her for adulthood. Unfortunately, the by-products of this desperation include the neglect of Moose and overworking herself and her husband.
Despite these heavy themes, this coming of age story includes plenty of humor. Moose is a likable character with whom most readers will be able to relate. The adventures that Moose and his friends get into are clever and take full advantage of the setting.
There was one thing that I disliked about this novel. It's very rare that I actively hate a character in young adult fiction, but Gennifer Choldenko's troublesome character Piper raised my ire like none other. The beautiful daughter of the warden, Piper is cruel and leads to constant trouble. One of the recommended literature circle questions provided at the end of the novel states, "If you could give Moose some advice about how to handle Piper, what would you say?" My best advice would be: run as fast as you can and don't look back.
Al Capone Does My Shirts was far more serious than I expected, but still enjoyable. There is a sequel, but the thought of reading any more about Piper deters me from picking it up.