Sunday, March 4, 2018

Arc Review: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko. ATale from Alcatraz #4. 240 p. Random House Children's Books, May 8, 2018. 9781101938133. (Review from arc courtesy of author.)

Moose Flanagan is pumped. There are just a few days before the end of his eighth grade year, then it'll be summer and lazy days filled with baseball. He and his mainland pal might have an in with the high school baseball team. 

As usual though, there are complications. The warden asks to meet with him and requests that he "keep an eye" on his daughter, Piper, who is back from boarding school. Fans of this remarkable series know what trouble Piper can be. Of course, Moose agrees because he's Moose - ever polite and always counted on to do the right thing. 

Later, he learns that his acceptance on the baseball team hinges on proving he knows Al Capone. Though most of the team is willing for him to join, their ringleader seems bent on extortion - promising a place on the team for ever increasing costs, impossible to achieve souvenirs, like a photo with Capone. 

Natalie's seventeenth birthday is coming up and his mother seems super depressed about it. Moose doesn't understand why his mom insists on dressing Nat like a ten-year-old but he also can't wrap his head around the makeover Mrs. Trixie gives Natalie. Nat's been doing really well at school learning to do things like make eye contact and read emotions; but she still has that stubborn streak and meltdowns are always a threat.

Setting, plot and characters are a few elements that need to be well-honed for a story to be great. Author Choldenko nails all three in each of her tales from Alcatraz. The prison island springs to vivid life in her hands, even without the helpful photos and historical notes at the end of each book. 

Now let's talk characters. Since December of 2008, when I started keeping track, I have read roughly 3120 books. I've worked in school libraries since 1998, so a conservative total for the last twenty years would be a little over 6000 books. Of those, there are few books I would ever take the time to reread. Tales from Alcatraz are four of them.

There are even fewer characters who reside in my heart. Moose Flanagan was one of the first to take up residence and each Tale from Alcatraz cements his place more. Moose is the James Stewart of children's literature. His earnest first-person narrative brims with heart and humor. He wants to see the best in everyone and wants to do the right thing by those he loves. His father is his hero and his love for his sister is fierce and complicated. Through Moose's voice, all the characters on Alcatraz are fully developed, flawed and complicated. 

One might think that plot would suffer for all this character development. Not so. All the books in the series are tightly plotted but this one was a white-knuckle read for easily the last half of the book thanks to a prison strike, threatened riot and Nat's propensity to go missing. 

And there were tears, many tears.

The planned trilogy turned into a quartet and Al Capone Throws Me a Curve would make for a fine conclusion for the Flanagan family. But I can't help but hope that Moose isn't done with Gennifer yet.

ETA: I read Al Capone Shines Does My Shirts before I started blogging. Click here for my review of Al Capone Shines My Shoes and here for Al Capone Does My Homework. Click here for Chasing Secrets. The first book of Gennifer's that I read was Notes from a Liar and her Dog. I also read her mind-bender No Passengers Beyond This Point. While not all reviewed, all highly recommended.

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