Perhaps it’s just been too long since I read Al Capone Does My Shirts, because I just didn’t find this one nearly as charming as I did that one. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading it; Choldenko still captures the mid-1930s very well, and the characters are still just as interesting as before. It’s just that this one is missing the novelty, the endearing charm, that made the first book so enjoyable to read.
The book picks up right where the first left off: Natalie is off to her special school; Moose is still trying to figure out interpersonal relationships, especially between his on-island friends and off-island friends, not to mention what to do with girls; there’s tension between the convicts and the guards and their families. The main source of conflict in this story isn’t with Natalie and her disability, however. It’s with Moose’s choice to get Al Capone to help Natalie get into her school. There’s a lot of lying and covering up of the truth, not to mention sneaking around, in this book, which makes things more than slightly uncomfortable.
It is an interesting journey for Moose as he figures out that trying to handle things on his own doesn’t always work. In addition, there’s more middle school awkwardness, and a bit of a romance as well. However, the tough lesson he has to learn is that he can’t please everyone all the time, and that attempting to has dire consequences. It’s not a pretty lesson, either.
The ending was a bit overly dramatic for my tastes: it involved an escape attempt on the part of the convicts and Natalie using her quirkiness with her autism to save the day. Which seemed a bit cliché, especially with expectations from the first book. I wanted something better, something more, out of Natalie and I didn’t get it.
Then again, it’s a middle-grade book, and that’s the audience, and the whole book really works on that level. Which is really all you can ask for.
Rated: Mild for some mild language, uncomfortable situations involving discrimination and a tiny, tiny bit of violence.