I received this book for free from Knopf Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on Jan 3rd, 2017
Genres: Historical, Middle-Grade
Source: Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Cammie O'Reilly is the warden's daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she's also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad. This girl's nickname is Cannonball.
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie's best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie's coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.
Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli spins a tale of loss and redemption like no other. The Warden's Daughter shows that kindness and compassion can often be found where we least expect it.
The Warden’s Daughter is honestly unlike anything I’ve ever read by Jerry Spinelli. When I was in middle school, Stargirl was one of the most important books in my life so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a historical middle grade novel written by Spinelli. There is still very much the ‘old Spinelli’ in this book but I can definitely see that he has grown and developed as a writer since I last had the joy of reading a book by him.
The Warden’s Daughter is a heartfelt story of loss and just the general need to find one’s place within the world. Cammie has always felt a little incomplete because she never had a mother growing up. She has made it her summer goal to claim a mother for herself. Whether or not you can just force someone to be your mother is beside the point. Thats kind of Cammie’s thing to figure out.
While Cammie’s journey was heart-warming, I think one of the biggest issues I did have was that even though this book is set in 1959, it really does not at all address any sort of race issues. There is no evidence that things are a-brewing during this time period and everything is just laddi-da. There are even black characters in the story but they don’t really do much besides exist to aid Cammie’s journey which is a little eh. *Spoiler Also the only black character within the book with a talking role is killed off in a way that is supposed to somehow aid Cammie’s journey. Spoiler End*
I just wish Spinelli had put in more of an effort to address some really important issues and to engage readers in a discussion that is so important right now.
Cammie’s story is definitely one that will be relatable for some readers and it was refreshing seeing a middle grade MC that wasn’t the cutest cute in cute town but was rather difficult and complicated. A little reminiscent of Mary from The Secret Garden if I do say so. I love the character development she undergoes but again, I wish certain things didn’t have to happen for her to have certain realizations.
Overall, I don’t want to explicitly say that this book is worth the read because that is a choice I want readers to be able to make for themselves given some of the things going on in the book. I think the book has a lot to offer but I wish more attention had been paid to certain details so that they didn’t have the potential to hurt someone.
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Just because I’m a Spinelli fan, I’m already considering reading this, though I do understand the frustration when authors don’t fully address something that you feel could have made it a “great” book, or at least a great book that leads to important conversations. I appreciated your review, thanks for sharing!
Hm, I definitely have conflicting feelings about whether I should pick this up or not. The overall idea behind the story definitely sounds intriguing, but I can myself having many of the same issues that you had with this book. I’ll have to look into it more – great review!
Dena @ Batch of Books
I really liked this book, but I can see what you mean about the lack of racial issues in the book. I remember thinking the same thing, but the book is told from Cammie’s perspective, and kids aren’t very observant of things happening outside their immediate bubble of life.
I wonder if he had added those extra details if the book would have derailed from its theme and gotten too long/complicated for the intended audience. I don’t know.
Sorry this didn’t meet your expectations when it comes to race issues. I think it should definitely be included, especially in books geared towards MGers. Kids at that age are like sponges. They are able to pick up everything and anything, and if racial issues were included in this, there’s no doubt they will understand it. 🙂
I read Stargirl in Middle School as well and loved it! It seems like this one doesn’t quite live up to the high standard of his other works. Still, it is always nice to see an author take a different approach in their writing.