The Warden's Daughter

Jerry Spinelli, author of the Newbery Medal winners Maniac Magee, Stargirl, Milkweed and many other middle-grade books, again proves why he's the king of storytellers. The Warden's Daughter, set in a 1959 Pennsylvania prison, is a buoyant yet powerfully emotional coming-of-age novel that reflects its prickly young protagonist's sense of entrapment in her own inarticulable sadness.

As the Hancock County Prison warden's daughter, "scruffy tomboy" Cammie O'Reilly carries significant social heft among her sixth-grade peers, who are intrigued by the world she shares with "crazed" prisoners of every stripe. But it's among these very souls that Cammie searches for a mother figure: "I was sick and tired of being motherless. I wanted one.... If I couldn't have my first-string mother, I'd bring one in off the bench." She finally settles on her housekeeper, the accused arsonist Eloda Pupko, and gets down to the business of wooing her: Cammie fakes an injury, smokes a cigarette in front of her, mocks her, gives her a gift--all to no avail. Will anything turn Eloda, a woman with bright orange hair and a flat demeanor, into the mother Cammie craves?

To her surprise, during this epic summer of adolescent onset and identity search, Cammie finally understands that she is not a happy person: "The sky is blue. The grass is green. Cammie O'Reilly is not happy." It isn't until years later that Cammie learns that with her gruff compassion and stubbornness she can make her own happiness, and that the people in her life have always been looking out for her in ways she never could have imagined. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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