By Gennifer Choldenko
Stars: 4 out of 5
I thoroughly enjoyed Choldenko’s unique premise (a kid moves to Alcatraz) and ultimate theme (dealing with a family member with autism). Everything about this book is fresh and new and the characters are three-dimensional – especially the main character, Matthew “Moose” Flanagan, who tries so hard to be good but we can see how circumstances can get beyond his control and how unfair it is to be a kid sometimes. The author must have done her homework to write so convincingly of the time period, from the descriptions of Alcatraz to the history of autism.
The format of a diary seemed a bit unwieldy and inappropriate. At the beginning, it served as a helpful reminder of the time period – probably most kids don’t know when Alcatraz was a functional prison, or when Al Capone was alive. After a while, I stopped noticing the diary-entry style and Choldenko seemed to drop that device, so the story flowed more smoothly.
The historical blending of autism research was also fascinating. There seems to be so much understanding about autism today that I take for granted, so at times it was a bit jolting for the main character’s sister, Natalie, to be treated the way she was. Kids familiar with people with autism will recognize it right away, even though the narrator can’t use the word because it hasn’t been coined yet.
Overall: touching, sweet, inventive, and realistic.