Al Capone Does My Shirt Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Al Capone Does My Shirt” by James Dashner includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 40 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Importance of Understanding Each Other and Underestimating the Disabled.
Al Capone Does My Shirts is a work of historical fiction about a family who moves to Alcatraz in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression. Alcatraz is the prison that formerly housed America’s most infamous, dangerous and ruthless convicts, including “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone. Nicknamed “The Rock”, Alcatraz is located on a small, unprotected island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
The Flanagan family makes the drastic move from Santa Monica, California to Alcatraz for financial reasons. Cam Flanagan, the father, takes a job as an electrician and guard. Moose (Matthew) Flanagan, his son and the novel’s main narrator, is very unhappy with the move away from Santa Monica. His older sister, Natalie, has autism. Their mother, Helen, is preoccupied with trying to “cure” Natalie. In nearby San Francisco, there is an exclusive school that specializes in helping children with disabilities like Natalie. The Esther P. Marinoff School is Helen’s dream for Natalie, and it is her mission to have Natalie enrolled there.
Early on in the story, Moose meets Piper Williams, the daughter of the Warden of Alcatraz, and immediately knows she is trouble. She boldly exploits her position as daughter of the Warden to intimidate Moose and get him involved with the manipulative scheme of charging her classmates money to have their laundry done at the prison by the infamous Al Capone. She soon gets the other children on Alcatraz involved with her laundry scam too, before they are eventually caught because a fellow classmate feels cheated.
All this time, Moose tries to hide Natalie from the other children as he is embarrassed and defensive of her. However, once the children meet her, they accept her (especially Theresa). The other children help Moose look after Natalie when his mother takes on piano students to help make ends meet.
Natalie’s first stay at the Esther P. Marinoff School is unsuccessful. She is sent home less than two days after she was dropped off because she is “not ready for the program” (61). Mr. Purdy, the man responsible for her enrollment, suggests that she works with a Mrs. Carrie Kelly to help her prepare for the school.
Working with Carrie and spending a lot of time with Moose does improve Natalie’s communication and social skills, most notably in being able to refer to herself as “I”, rather than in the third person. Sometimes, Moose feels cruel for not allowing Natalie to engage with her “obsessions” (a box of buttons, books with indexes, etc.) but does allow her to when they are alone because it is part of Natalie’s identity.
While trying to look for a lost convict’s baseball, convict #105 and Natalie strike up a friendship that terrifies Moose. He learns from Piper that this inmate is young, a “good guy”, and soon to be released. When Natalie is rejected a second time from the Esther P. Marinoff School, Moose feels helpless and believes that Al Capone could be the best bet to convince Mr. Purdy to allow Natalie to attend there.
Piper helps Moose write a letter to Al Capone, asking for his help to get Natalie admitted to the school, and miraculously, it works. When he gets his laundry back from the prison, he finds a note in his shirt sleeve that simply says “Done”. The family is then informed that Natalie will be the first student at the new area for older children at the school.