The Warden’s Daughter

Written by Jerry Spinelli
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In the summer of 1959, Cammie O’Reilly is about to turn thirteen. Cammie’s mother died in an accident when she was a baby, and her father is the warden of the Hancock County Prison. She and her father live in an apartment above the prison entrance, and Cammie has been through a succession of “Cammie-keepers,” who are trusted female inmates who dust, cook and help take care of her. This summer her keeper is Eloda Pupko, and Cammie decides she wants Eloda to be her mother. She implements a series of events to try to bring out Eloda’s maternal instincts, most of which leave Cammie frustrated and enraged.

Cammie is a soup of teenage emotions: sometimes good-hearted, sometimes verging on evil, a friend, a bully, angry, sad, and always unhappy. She hangs out with the female inmates (which I found odd and a little unrealistic) and her best friend, Reggie, who wants more than anything to be famous. Spinelli does a good job of bringing 1959 alive, with the music, soda fountains and pedal pushers. Cammie seems headed for an emotional breakdown, and the suspense of what will come of her crazy behavior is engaging. Unfortunately, the climax left me disappointed, as it was too easy. An epilogue of sorts explains more clearly what Cammie’s father and Eloda were doing and thinking, but I would have preferred for that to be integrated into the actual story. The intended audience, ages 9-12, may have an easier time than me relating to Cammie and her coming-of-age summer.