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The Warden's Daughter

Review

The Warden's Daughter

In his latest novel, THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER, master storyteller and Newberry Award-winner Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Cammie O’Reilly, an almost 13-year-old who lives in a prison.

Cammie “Cannonball” O’Reilly has a reputation around town of being a little wild. Most people let it slide since not only is she warden’s daughter, living in an apartment at the Hancock County Prison, but she also lost her mother as a baby in a tragic milk truck accident that almost took Cammie’s life as well. That would be enough to make anyone angry.

During the summer of 1959, the summer Cammie turns 13, she decides it’s time for her to have a mother. She turns to the women in the prison, particularly a colorful shoplifter named Boo Boo and Elouda, a former arsonist turned housekeeper for the warden.

But that summer is also a summer where everything is changing. Her best friend, Reggie, discovers lipstick and has plans on getting onto the show “Bandstand.” The murderer of a local teenage girl is brought to the prison. And worst of all, Elouda resists Cammie’s attempts to turn her into a mother figure.

Will Cammie survive the summer in one piece? Or will her angry outbursts bring everything crashing down around her ears?

"As usual, Jerry Spinelli weaves a well-written tale about kindness, loss, redemption and the pains that come with growing up that is hard to put down."

With THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER, Spinelli introduces the reader to yet another understandably flawed character, which they can’t help but root for. Cammie’s a tom boy, she rides her bike, keeps her hair short, and desperately wants to play Little League, but keeps getting turned away because she is a girl. The story is told by an older Cammie, a grandmother herself at the time she is retelling it, and even with the distance of time and reflection, the pain and anger of the younger Cammie is palpable and understandable. She misses the mother she never knew, and craves that connection that she sees other kids making.

The setting only serves to highlight Cammie’s internal turmoil, living on a prison, surrounded by other people trapped in a real prison, as Cammie is trapped in her emotional one. She uses her position as warden’s daughter to exert some power and control over the women in the prison, but never for any malicious purposes, she keeps their badminton set away from them after some of the prisoners fight, and rewards them by bringing her hula hoop into the practice yard one day. The interesting set of characters Cammie interacts with at the prison, both the guards and the prisoners, serve as an extended family to her, keeping her in check while her father is busy with work.   

As usual, Jerry Spinelli weaves a well-written tale about kindness, loss, redemption and the pains that come with growing up that is hard to put down.

Reviewed by Alyssa Cami on February 23, 2017

The Warden's Daughter
by Jerry Spinelli