Cover of The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. The outline of a girl in a bird cage, releasing birds to freedom

About the Book

Title: The Warden’s Daughter
Published: 2017

Cover Story: Robert Stroud
Drinking Buddy: Guy Fawkes
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Papillon
Talky Talk: Chief Bromden
Bonus Factors: Prison, 1950s
Bromance Status: Abbé Faria

Cover Story: Robert Stroud

So, like, instead of the birds being in the cage, the girl is in the cage. Whoa, man, that’s deep.

The Deal:

You know how there was always that one kid at school whose dad had the awesome job? Jet pilot, surgeon, young adult author? Well Cammie has them all beat. Her father is the local prison warden, and Cammie lives in an apartment right in the jail! How awesome is that?

It’s 1959 and her father is a prison reformer, hoping to rehabilitate his charges. Cammie, whose mother died when she was a baby, is kind of at loose ends. Most of the people she hangs out with are serving five to ten year terms. Her best friend Reggie is obsessed with boys and American Bandstand. And Cammie would just as soon punch a boy as kiss one.

And then there’s Eloda, the red haired lady who cooks and cleans for her family. A woman who seems to care about Cammie. Someone who almost…mothers her. Unfortunately, Eloda is a prisoner who works for the warden. This is just a job to her, right?

Drinking Buddy: Guy Fawkes

A pitcher and glass of milk

Cammie is known as Cannonball Cammie, due to her short temper and her impulsive behavior. She often acts first and regrets it later. For instance, she takes a little boy riding on her bike, not stopping to think that his mother might wonder where he is. Cammie has access to the female prisoners’ exercise yard and spends a lot of time hanging out with them. Unfortunately, she comes off a little bossy, like she’s the assistant warden. For instance, she confiscates an inmate’s badminton racquet when she throws it. Cammie seems to have the women’s best interest at heart, but she is only twelve. This smacks of when the boss’s kid starts hanging around the office. Cute, but they’re well aware of their privilege and everyone is afraid to tell them that they’re acting spoiled and bossy, out of fear of angering their parent.

But Cammie longs for the mother she never knew, and is determined to mold prisoner Eloda into that role. Cammie makes Eloda do her hair. She buys her a diary. She tries to get her to talk. When Eloda still insists on calling her Miss Cammie, she goes on the offensive. Calls her ‘the maid.’ Makes messes. Steals cigarette butts and hides them in her room. She wants Eloda to scold her, to yell at her, to do something to prove she cares about her. It’ll just take time.

And if there’s one thing there’s a lot of in a prison, it’s time.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Papillon

Prison life can be tedious, and Cammie likes it like that. She’s not really interested in boys, though this guy Danny seems to have taken a shine to her. Cammie’s older friend Reggie, however, is in full on teenage crazy mode. She’s determined to meet boys, to wear makeup, and to be featured on American Bandstand. She finds Cammie’s life in the prison exciting, and soon is bringing other girls over for tours. They dub themselves ‘The Jailbirds.’ This couldn’t end badly, could it?

Talky Talk: Chief Bromden

Cammie has a unique relationship with the prisoners. She’s not really an authority figure, nor a fellow convict, nor an adult. She becomes the women’s adopted daughter, their link to the outside, their mascot. And Cammie realizes that life on the inside isn’t as romantic as people on the outside believe. When a notorious child killer is incarcerated in the prison (Cammie is not allowed to see the male inmates), her friend Reggie wants Cammie to get his autograph.

A nice mix of naive and far too worldly at the same time.

Bonus Factor: Prison

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption

While Cammie’s movements in the facility are restricted, she does have access to some pretty awesome places, such as the old tower where they used to hang people. For those of us who were forced to create adventures in the garage, this is pretty awesome.

The female inmates rarely talk about their crimes (though it’s stated there are no murderers among them). Cammie loves hanging out with them, especially Boo Boo. Boo Boo is an African-American shoplifter, who promises she’s going to fix Cammie a sweet potato pie when she’s released shortly. She tells Cammie all about her life in the Louisiana Bayou, her childhood as a sharecropper, and the fiance who’s waiting for her on the outside. She sends Cammie on missions to enjoy the things she no longer can, such as a banana split.

Cammie thinks she may have found the mother figure she’s been longing for. But prisoners…they’re not always honest about everything.

Bonus Factor: 1950s

Smiling what 1950s style couple at the breakfast table

The year was 1959. Ike was in the White House. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam. Rock and roll was new. It’s fun to look back on these times, when prison reform was a radical concept and everyone was worried about the ‘Spootnick’ thing the Russians had put up in the sky.

Bromance Status: Abbé Faria

I enjoyed reading you. This is a story I’ll remember for years to come. Years and years and years…

FTC full disclosure: I won this book in a raffle. I bid on the basket because there was lots and lots of coffee in it. No money or cigarettes exchanged hands.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.