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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A book...I actually read a book. So how about a review...



This isn't a book that I picked randomly from the library.

This isn't a book that I read because someone recommended it.

This isn't a new book from an author I previously read.

This is a book that I heard people talking about.  Their descriptions peeked my interest.  It's supposed to be an intermediate level book--ages 9-13.  It's supposed to be something that my 9 1/2 year old 4th grader could read and comprehend.

I'm not sure who determines this but I think a perquisite should be having or at least knowing a child this age.  Thankfully, I have two and based on this expertise I can clearly determine that my children (both whom love to read) would not enjoy this book.  Plus I'm certain that my younger daughter wouldn't understand it.

The book is set in 1935 and takes place on Alcatraz Island.  The main character, a boy named Moose, has a dad employed at the prison.  In 1935, most of the prison employees brought their families to the island to live.  Moose, 12, has a sister named Natalie. 

Her age is unclear in the book as she is afflicted with severe autism and acts significantly younger than her chronological age.   It is indicated that she is older than Moose and that her symptoms started shortly after he was born.  Given what we now know about autism, symptoms become clear between ages 2-3.  This makes Natalie approximately 15.

The title of the book is misleading as the portion of the book that focus on the fact that the prison staff's laundry is completed by the convicts on the island is minimal to say the least.  The book centers around the fact that Moose is often saddled with afternoon and evening care of his sister. 

She has failed to get into the school her family hoped would "save" her and her mother is devastated.  She has tried everything from diet to voodoo to cure Natalie and when her therapist suggest that Moose begin to treat her like any other sister the boy is saddled with her care.

At one point in the book, he looses her.  She is minimally vocal and when he finds her she is sitting hand and hand with a convict.  Granted it is a convict, due to be released in six months and someone who has been giving gardening duties by the warden.  The book implies, but never says, what happened to her.  This implication is clear to an adult but I think when read by a child it wouldn't make much sense.

"The con is smiling.  He's missing a front tooth.  There are dark greased comb marks in his hair.  I wonder about this.  Inmates aren't allowed hair pomade.  Why is he wearing pomade on his hair?  Maybe he isn't a con.  Please, God, don't let him be a con. 

I haven't even looked at Natalie.  I'm afraid to take my eyes off of the guy in the denim shirt.  I think somehow I can protect her this way.  But now I watch her too.  She's smiling.  Sometimes Nat looks concerned or sad, or raging mad.  The best she ever looks is interested.  But here is my sister, Natalie Flanagan, looking happy."

Moose tries to drags her home, while she keeps repeating 105 over and over (the convicts number) he feels sick to his stomach. 

"Nothing happened."  I say this out loud to shut up the voice in my head.  My teeth are chattering like I'm cold.  They were just sitting there.  There's no law against that.  But I can't stop thinking what the warden told me the first week we came here.  "Some of these convicts haven't seen a woman in ten or fifteen years.  I think you're old enough to understand what that means...."

I don't know what comes to your mind when you read that but is it something you would want your 9-year old to do a book report on?

The book received a Newberry Honor and I will admit that it is cleverly written and fast paced enough to keep my attention.  However, award winning or not I concur with the chatter I heard about this book. 

It should be offered at a middle school level and above.

4 random thoughts:

Dan said...

I have a different outlook - books should always be available that are well beyond the average student's grasp and wont.

So I have a firm belief in not segregating library books by age. Some kids are ready for the Russian classics by 4th grade and others will never be. Challenge the top is my motto.

David Allen Waters said...

it actually sounds interesting, but I agree, not sure a nine yr old would like it.

Kristie Maynard said...

I have to agree with you on this one. I agree with Dan and I always read books that were above my kids age levels to them when they were small. But you have to look at the content and I don't think this is something for a elementary shool aged kid.
I used to do all the book fairs when my kids were in elementary school and I read a lot of the books, many of them were intended for a higher age level, and they were fine for younger kids, but some were just like this one and just not appropriate, at least not for my kids.

Jenners said...

Not sure about this for me, to be honest. Sounds pretty intense for a 9-year-old ... at least the ones I know.

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kisatrtle
I'm a 41 year old (gasp) freelance writer, school cafeteria manager, wife and mother. I have three children and one anxious and overweight beagle. I use my blog to make others laugh, to share some cool crafts, to document my lunchlady adventures and to lament about the challenges faced by us all on the journey called life. Thanks for visiting. Please leave some crack...um...I meant some comments.
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