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al capone shines my shoes

25 february 2016

I have to spoil Al Capone Does My Shirts in order to talk about Al Capone Shines My Shoes, so forgive me and click away if you can't stand lack of suspense.

Gennifer Choldenko's first Capone novel ended with the kingpin pulling strings to get narrator Moose Flanagan's autistic sister Natalie into a special private school. Of course, as Moose's dad (an electrician on Alcatraz who doubles as a prison guard) explains (unaware that Al and Moose are in contact), a guy like Capone never just does you a favor. You have to do him a favor back, and then he has two things on you instead of one, and more favors will have to follow.

So Natalie got into her school, and now Moose has to get yellow roses for Capone's wife Mae when she comes to visit. This seems like a near-impossible task, and watching Moose negotiate it is one of the nicest chapters in this appealing sequel.

Overall, the tension builds continuously throughout Shoes, but much of it is submerged. We know early on that the convicts are planning something – riot, prison break? – but of course we don't see their preparations, just the clues that lead Moose and the other island kids to infer that something's up. When the tension breaks, we get some exciting action scenes. In the best children's-book tradition, the kids have to solve problems and foil the villains without too much adult intervention.

The longer arcs of the series are slow-moving but amiable. Much of Shoes tracks the relationships that Moose develops with Piper, the warden's insufferable but attractive daughter, and Annie, the best ballplayer on Alcatraz. Does he "like" them? Do either of them like him? Will he kiss Piper? Will he regret kissing Piper?

The series continues to be very convincingly written and the characters sharp. Some day before too long I will read Al Capone Does My Homework; if I can fit that in before the end of this year I'll only be three years behind.

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Shines My Shoes. New York: Puffin [Penguin], 2009. Kindle Edition. PZ 7 .C446265Ap