The Warden's Daughter
"How do you be a child to a mother you never knew?
For twelve years my father had been enough. Family photos and a
yellowing newspaper story had been enough.
Sure, from the time I'd first heard the story, I'd thought about
my mother. Anne O'Reilly. The lady who saved me from the milk
truck. I cried for her. For myself. Sometimes. And that was it.
That's how the world was. Other kids had mothers. Cammie O'Reilly
didn't. End of story."
Only you know it isn't end of story. Cammie, protagonist of
Jerry Spinelli's The Warden's Daughter is about to turn thirteen.
That Mothers' Day she and her father have placed flowers on her
mother's grave and gone to a ball game. She's caught a glimpse of
what she was missing.
"...Dormant feelings stirred by a smile at a ballpark moved and
shifted until they shaped a thought. I was sick and tired of being
motherless. I wanted one. And a second thought: If I couldn't have
my first-string mother, I'd bring one in off the bench,
Cammie comes up with a not so promising candidate. She and her
warden dad live in an apartment in the prison he runs. Eloda Pupco is
the trustee (inmate) who cleans the apartment and watches out over
Cammie. Now Cammie is going to do whatever is takes to turn Eloda
into her adopted mom.
It's a hot, humid, strange summer for Cammie. The prison has a
new infamous inmate: Marvin Edward Baker, the alleged killer of a
teenage girl. Best Friend (Reggie) is pursuing fame via an appearance
on American Bandstand and trying to get Cammie to take more of an
interest in her appearance. After all they're about to start junior
high. Cammie is experiencing confusing, intense emotions. Her
usually effective ways of riding out anger suddenly don't work.
The Warden's Daughter is a vivid, poignant coming of age story.
I highly reccomend it to readers, including those well beyond the
On a personal note, I can strongly relate to Cammie's need to recruit
a family member. In my case it was a sibling. Although Harriet did
not die, he [transgender] incurred very severe brain damage when he
had spinal meningitis. Dad tried to get Harriet put away as a ward of
the state and emotionally checked out. Mom had far more than she
could handle and an aversion to sharing problems with outsiders (non
family members). I was constantly reminded that Harriet was fragile
and that I was to take over his custody when Mom passed on...
...not exactly what a preteen wants to hear.
For decades I yearned for a sibling I could actually be an equal
with (and sometimes even protected by) as opposed to a prospective
caretaker for. I'd just about given up...
...when Silvestre entered the picture. Suddenly he seemed to be
everywhere I was, getting up in my business, intuiting more about me
than most people who'd known me much longer. It wasn't just my
imagination. Dean Robert Q. Dana assigned him to be my mentor.
With Silvestre in my life in a year I've survived the summer I
lost my school committee seat and my last child to home moved out,
gained the self confidence to apply for a highly competitive grad
school program, was able to get beyond anorexia after decades, and
come out about having petit mal epilepsy and gain a lot more control
A great big shout out goes out to Silvestre, my brother from
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