Monday, July 10, 2017

Middle Grade Fiction: The Warden's Daughter, by Jerry Spinelli


Title: The Warden's Daughter
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 352 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Cammie O'Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison--not as a prisoner, she's the warden's daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women's excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.

But even though Cammie's free to leave the prison, she's still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn't think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she's willing to work with what she's got.

My Review: 
Jerry Spinelli is justifiably renowned for his children's books. This one lived up to the hype. I was a bit dubious about the premise, but Spinelli not only manages to channel a 12-year-old girl quite convincingly, but he makes her desperate search for a mother make complete sense. The book isn't so much about the need for a mother, though, as it is about the rage that builds up in a child on the edge of puberty, even when life isn't as unfair as it's been to Cammie. 

In one sense, of course, Cammie has little to complain of--she has a father who loves her, someone to make sure she has meals and clean clothes, and a safe, if unconventional, place to live. But when everything about you is changing, as it does on the cusp of 13, the lack of a mother you never knew can be pretty painful. It doesn't help that Cammie has no natural ability to be a girl (I can sympathize). It's not surprising that she longs for a mother to show her how, especially as her father doesn't seem to be terribly close.

The humor, and the pain, comes from where she looks for that mother (I wonder if Spinelli had been reading Are You My Mother? Certainly Cammie's search reminds me of that baby bird). The prison-yard might not be the best place for a pre-teen girl, and definitely not the best place to look for a mother, but it's what she has. Or, it's what she believes she has. And therein lies the extra interest, because a great deal of her trouble comes from her own short-sightedness about the world around her, and her father has to take some blame for being a bit clueless, though he is a lot less clueless than she thinks at the time!

My Recommendation:
This is historical fiction, but the historical setting plays a minor role, really. This might be a good starter for kids who think they don't like historical fiction, because kids in any era can relate to Cammie's problems.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Warden's Daughter out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


  1. That certainly is a different type of environment to grow up in! Worrisome to be looking for a mother figure there. Sounds like an intriguing read.

    1. It was. No time wasted in drawing me into the story, either. Spinelli is a pro, no question :)

  2. Hm. Slightly odd, but you certainly make it sound like it's worth a read.


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