Al Capone Throws Me a Curve: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 4

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Al Capone Throws Me a Curve: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 4 Book Poster Image
Riveting prison drama returns with focus on family, freedom.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Wonderfully rendered sense of time and place, with the Depression a keenly felt backdrop. Photo illustration maps the island and where key characters live and work. Author's note offers more information on Capone, kids living at Alcatraz, and prison strikes. Understanding depiction of person on the autism spectrum, including strengths and challenges.

Positive Messages

Strong focus on accepting responsibility: meeting the expectations of others and taking ownership for your decisions and your behavior. People want and need the freedom to decide their own path, as much as possible. Denying people freedom and self-determination can bring out their worst qualities. People with developmental disorders have interests, strengths, weaknesses, and hopes like anyone else. Families remain together even when individuals are apart.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Moose takes on great responsibility -- some imposed on him, some he takes on voluntarily out of concern for others, though he sometimes bristles over his load. He has nuanced insight into people, such as observing that Piper wants a friend but doesn't know how to be one. He makes serious errors in judgment, but owns up to them. Several boys treat Natalie with empathy and kindness, apologizing for rude behavior and making generous gestures. Some dated attitudes about girls, from an insult that "fifth-graders throw like girls" to a parent's focus on his daughter's prospects for marriage. Moose's parents think very highly of him, and his father tries to help him preserve time to pursue his own interests. They're apologetic after believing he behaved out of character.


Girl attacked by man and put in danger of sexual assault; child injured while fighting off man with knife; inmate fears being killed in retaliation for not joining strike. Boy's father shows weapons confiscated from inmates; child steals gun and passes it around to friends. Strong situational innuendo about protecting teen girl from sexual attention and attack.


Natalie starts to wear flattering dresses that her family worries are provocative, reveals her underwear, makes kissing noises, and becomes infatuated with a boy.


Some coarse language: "fart," "turds," "pee."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Al Capone Throws Me a Curve -- the fourth book in Gennifer Choldenko's A Tale from Alcatraz series -- centers on how Moose Flanagan's family handles the maturation of his sister, Natalie, who's on the autism spectrum. Her interest in wearing flattering dresses and her infatuation with a teen boy cause embarrassment and concern for Moose, and she ends up in a perilous situation that puts her in danger of sexual assault. The worry over sexual violence and undesirable attention is an essential thread in the plot but isn't discussed explicitly: Moose frets over her exposure to the "abominably wicked men" in the prison, and there's a close encounter with an armed, threatening inmate. Children handle a weapon without permission and face perilous situations. One adult is overwhelmed and struggles to be a fully engaged parent, and another intentionally exposes a child to danger to try to gain advantage for her own family.

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What's the story?

All Moose Flanagan really wants in AL CAPONE THROWS ME A CURVE is to secure a spot on the high school baseball team. But the captain refuses to give a freshman a chance -- unless Moose can bring him impossible proof that he knows Al Capone, the most famous inmate on Alcatraz Island, where Moose lives with his family because his father works there. Meanwhile, the warden saddles Moose with keeping tabs on his untrustworthy daughter, and a prisoner strike has everyone on edge. To top it all off, Moose feels as if he's the only one trying to keep his older sister, Natalie, who's on the autism spectrum, from people who might take advantage of her. It all comes to a head with the most high-stakes game of baseball Moose has ever played.

Is it any good?

Gennifer Choldenko makes great use of one of the world's most notorious prisons as an enticing hook for her popular A Tale from Alcatraz series, but the real drama is focused on family and growing up. In Al Capone Throws Me a Curve, Moose chafes at having so much responsibility, but he appreciates how much he's needed: He fills in for an unreliable parent to care for his sister, steps up to handle convicts' chores when they strike, and takes initiative to help his family when someone sets them up for disaster.

Moose's sister with autism remains key to the plot: As Natalie turns 17, her behavior forces her family to stop treating her like a little girl and think more about her future. She's a strong character, and Moose treats her with respect and love. His empathy is the beating heart of this series, from his love for Natalie to his concern for an at-risk inmate and his beloved cat. Growing up can be hard, but here Moose learns that standing up for himself doesn't mean he's on his own.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Moose shoulders responsibility in Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. Do you think his family expects too much of him? Do you sometimes feel pressure to handle more than you feel you should?

  • How would you feel about living in a place like Alcatraz?

  • What do you think about the portrayals of girls and boys in the story? In what ways do you think they reflect the time in which the story takes place?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love family stories and books about kids on the autism spectrum

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