I had never read anything by this author before, but I had read an early review about this book and was intrigued at the mention of Alcatraz Island being the setting for a missing girl, in a situation where only one prisoner knew the truth of her whereabouts. It sounded like a great story line, and I enjoyed the book though it started out a bit slow. As it turned out, the story details the life of a young Irish boy named Shanley Keegan, with the missing girl portion of the plot only revealed at the very end of the book.
As a child of 12, Shan is living in Dublin under the care of his abusive Uncle Will, an alcoholic with not much parental guidance or care. Shan’s parents had both passed, and he only recently found a letter to his mother from an American musician, who it turns out is actually Shan’s real father. Shan decides to go to to New York to find his father and try to find a better life than that in Dublin, where he performs vaudevillian acts in nightclubs to scrounge up enough money for a square meal every now and then. Most of the money he earns is snatched up by Will and spent at the local pubs.
On the ship en route to America, Shan happens to be in the right place at the right time to help break up a fight between an Italian American named Nick Capello and some other young lads. Capello, who Shan will find out is quite the ladies’ man, was keeping company with the other young lads’ girls. To thank Shan for his help, Nick repays the favor, helping Shan through immigration in New York, allowing him to pretend to be Tommy Capello, Nick’s little brother. As it turns out, the real Tommy Capello was a sickly child and died at a young age. Nick’s family takes Shan in as part of their own. After many attempts and no success, Shan decides to give up the search for his real father, and assume the role of a Capello. The story progresses until we found adult Shan, now in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also while trying to help Nick. He ends up in Alcatraz, where good behavior earns him the role of gardener for the warden’s greenhouse. Here he meets a little girl who will forever change his life.
I won’t give away any more plot details, because there are some major events that occur which must be read to be fully enjoyed and understood. Readers can’t help but root for Shan, as hard times continue to befall him, and his attitude and outlook remain positive. Even as a prisoner in Alcatraz, he tries to find good in others, concentrating on serving the time without any trouble so he can go “home” to the Capellos. One of my favorite things about the story is the strong family bond between Shan and the Capello family, even though he wasn’t born a Capello, they took him in and he was loved as if he were. I think, perhaps, this is how Shan had the strength to make it through so many of the hardships in his adult life.
Fans of historical fiction would love this story. It reminded me some of The Green Mile, without the fantasy bit.