The Warden’s Daughter

Guest post by Padma Venkatraman

The Warden’s Daughter


By Jerry Spinelli


Cammie, the protagonist of Jerry Spinelli’s latest novel, lives in a flat adjoining the county prison. Her mother dies in the act of saving Cammie’s life when Cammie was a baby. For 12 years Cammie copes with being “motherless” but when she and her father attend a baseball game on Mother’s Day, feelings Cammie has suppressed all her life burst out of her. Cammie isn’t the kind to cry and give up. She isn’t nicknamed cannonball for nothing. Feisty and stubborn, she promises herself, “I’ll bring one (mother) in off the bench.”

Cammie’s attempt to carve a mother figure out of the female inmates who are her neighbors are touching and funny in a way that is supremely and uniquely Spinelli. Creating quirky yet believable characters, Spinelli humanizes those who are incarcerated, such as Boo-Boo, a shop-lifter, and Eloda, an arsonist.

Even as we laugh as Cammie’s escapades, we are forced to ask deep questions about our society. Why do we lock people up? What assumptions do we have about those behind bars? Why do people end up in prison and to what extent is their fate the fault of society at large? Readers will be forced to pause and consider issues they may never have given previous thought to. To me, this is the book’s greatest achievement.

Of course, no Spinelli book is didactic. The Warden’s Daughter is as much a portrait of a girl growing up in a small town in the summer of 1959 as it anything else. Bookended by sections that take place in the present, filled with signature Spinelli phrases like “words flew nonstop through the strawberry haze of her scent,” this book is a welcome return to the town of Two Mills, PA, the setting of Spinelli’s Maniac McGee.

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