Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts Family

By Gennifer Choldenko


You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you're me. I came here because my mother said I had to. […]

All so my sister can go to the Esther P. Marinoff School. (1.3-4)

Right from the beginning, it's clear this is a book about family. Which Moose might not think is such a great thing—at first, anyway. He tells us that the only reason he's on Alcatraz (and not a criminal) is because of his family. More specifically: his sister. This job on Alcatraz pays enough so they can afford to send Natalie to a place that will help her.

I get a sinking feeling in my gut. There were 237 electricians who applied for the job my dad got. If it were me, I'd have kept my mouth shut about having a daughter like Natalie. (3.81)

Moose is self conscious about his sister—he's worried that people will judge their whole family because Natalie is different. Maybe it's deeper than that, though. Perhaps he's more worried that the rest of the world doesn't love her like his family does.

It's only a half-day at school, which I'm hoping my mom doesn't know so she won't wonder why I'm late. (8.2)

Family is great, but it can be a bit of a burden from time to time, and Moose needs a break from family life to play baseball with his friends. But he knows that his mom always needs his help at home. If she finds out that he hung out after school rather than coming home early, Moose is worried that she'll be mad.

It's so nice to have my dad again. I was angry at him for looking for a job up here and angry all over again when he found one. I've been angry at my mom for making us do this, and at Pete and all my friends at home because I had to move away and they didn't. I've been mad at everyone except Natalie. I always try really hard not to get angry at her. (5.23)

Moose is stuck in the middle of a really big family transition. His first reaction is to be angry with all of them because they had to move away from their old home and friends. But Moose also knows that it's unfair to take these feelings out on Natalie. She's innocent, and needs his love and support.

I want to go back to Santa Monica, but not this way—not if it means giving this news to my mom. My feet feel suddenly too heavy. The stairs are too steep. (10.19)

Moose has been pretty vocal about how he doesn't like living in Alcatraz. But when he hears that his sister has been asked to leave her new school, he suddenly realizes what is important. Despite his complaining, he doesn't have the heart to break the news to his family—he realizes that being on Alcatraz is the best shot for all of them right now.

"Moose." My mother reaches for my chin again and tips my face toward her. "I need you. Your dad needs you and Natalie needs you most of all. Let's give this a try, shall we? Let's just see how it goes." (13.67)

Moose's family really relies on him, which is tough for him. Babysitting his sister isn't exactly his idea of a good time—especially in a place where he's trying to make new friends. But his mom is showing him that she really needs his help here, so he's going to have to step up to the plate.

"Get them out of here." My mom spits the words out.

"Mom, it's—"

"I won't have her made a spectacle of."

"It's not really like that. They like her," I say.

"NOW, Moose!" (20.28-32)

The good news: Mom is fiercely loyal to her family. The bad news: This can make her overly protective and self conscious about stuff, especially Natalie's condition. She doesn't see that people outside of the family can love her daughter, too. Moose is trying to help her see that Natalie has friends who care and can take care of her.

"Moose, are you going to bring, you know…" Piper dips her head toward Natalie, who is sitting quietly dragging her fingers along a patch of moss. "No offense or anything"—Piper flashes her fake smile—"but I don't think you should."

"You know what? That's none of your business," I shoot back. I decide about Natalie. Not Piper. (21.49-50)

Moose is used to being protective of his family. He feels responsible for Natalie, especially because he babysits her all the time, so when Piper starts trying to tell him what to do with her, Moose snaps back. Natalie is his business, thank you very much.

I can't get over this. I keep thinking about when Al Capone was a baby. I'll bet his mama sang him the same song she sang to Rocky. I'll she held his hand when they crossed the street, packed his lunch for school and sewed his name in his jacket—A. Capone so everyone would know it was his.

I'll bet she wishes she could do it all over again too… if only Al were little and she could. (22.44-45)

After running into Al Capone's mom on the boat, Moose isn't dazzled by how she's a famous criminal's relative—instead, he just thinks about her as a normal mom. He thinks about how she must miss her baby boy, who used to be just like other kids, and about how she must miss him. This probably comes from the fact that family is a big priority in his Moose's own life.

My father presses his lips so hard together, they turn white. [His puts his arm around me and pulls me to Natalie. His puts his other arm around her. "I am—he wipes at his eyes with his shoulder so he doesn't have to let go of us—"so very proud of my children. So very proud." A sob escapes his chest. "What wonderful people you've grown to be." (35.36).

Dad loves his family in a different way than Mom does. We don't hear a lot about Mr. Flanagan, other than the fact that he's always working to support the family. But here, in a special moment between Dad and his two kids, he tells them how much he loves them and makes it clear that he's proud to be their dad.

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