The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry SpinelliThe Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 3, 2017
Pages: 352
Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

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.

I received this book from Knopf Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.

I want to love The Warden’s Daughter like I’ve loved Jerry Spinelli’s others. He’s a master storyteller. Maniac Magee  remains one of my most beloved children’s books. I have no doubt that I am who I am today because of Maniac Magee.

But The Warden’s Daughter misses the mark. This story doesn’t capture me like his others, and his use of racial stereotypes is not okay. Boo Boo is almost nothing but racial stereotypes. Overly jovial black woman. Inmate. Sweet potato pie. Ignorant. Harmful stereotypes abound in one character, which is something I never expected from Spinelli or his publisher. The only good thing about Boo Boo is that she teaches Cammie the concept of the Love Bridge. The Love Bridge is the unbreakable connection between two people who love each other. It’s a really beautiful and poignant way to think about love and grief, especially for kids.

The plot is too convenient at times. Though the story is set in 1959, it’s actually told by Cammie in the future, who is a grandmother. But did she reflect on racism? On how she saw Boo Boo as a caricature? Nope. All she does is remember 1959 with little thought of the way she saw the world as a kid. Again, unacceptable.

Eloda Pupko is another character that falls flat for me. I wish we saw some development in a way other than a diary at the end. Her journal felt like such a throwaway plot point to me. Her reasons for doing what she did (no spoilers) aren’t solid enough to explain why she does it.

I can identify with young Cammie, and I think kids will too. We all have pent-up anger about something in our lives that we need to release in a healthy way. Her friend is turning into a teenager and leaving her behind while she stews over the past. I’ve been there. A lot of us have.

But even with as much as I like Cammie, I can’t give this book a good review. I’m incredibly disappointed in The Warden’s Daughter. I guess even great authors write bad books sometimes.

Note to Parents

I recommend discussing racial stereotypes and how harmful they are if your kid reads this book.


A too-convenient plot with too many racial stereotypes. Not Spinelli’s best.


© 2017, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.