The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli


Goodreads: The Warden’s Daughter
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Jan. 2017


Cammie O’Reilly lives as the Hancock County Prison where her father is the warden.  Her mother died when she was a baby.  Now, twelve years later, Cammie is still searching for a mom.  And she’s thinking the prison is a great place to find one.

Star Divider


Though set in a prison, The Warden’s Daughter does not offer much commentary on crime or prison life, instead focusing on the bars Cammie O’Reilly feels around herself.  She lost her mother as a baby and now, twelve years later, she is still trying to deal with the pain and the emptiness.  As she reacts with anger, she finds herself slowly drifting away–maybe straight into trouble.

Readers hoping for a story that provides an empathetic look at inmates will find themselves disappointed.  The point of the story is that Cammie tends to be selfish and little too focused on her own needs and concerns.  As a result, the prisoners are often viewed through Cammie’s lens–a lens that misunderstands or sometimes distorts.  She thinks of others only in terms of how they relate to her, can give her the love she craves.

Still, the story is a moving one.  It illustrates how sometimes cages can be mental instead of physical.  And how sometimes a person acts out, not because they are bad, but because they are hurting.  It’s all set in a delicious 1950s Pennsylvania town, with historical references enough to make readers young and old squeal with glee.  This is my first Spinelli book, but it will not be my last.

4 stars

13 thoughts on “The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

    • Krysta says:

      The character in question isn’t actually a prisoner. She’s the daughter of the warden so the story is about how she interacts with the women in the prison and attempts to find a mother figure in them. The story is also set in the 1950s so I imagine it isn’t meant to be a commentary on current prison conditions.


      • Grab the Lapels says:

        Oh, no, I understood that she wasn’t in prison herself. I was just making a comment about how people cope with time. I’ve read a lot about how people outside of correctional facilities think about time and what “corrections” means, so I made a comment in that line. Sorry I wasn’t clear. 🙂 I also see I had a typo in my first comment. Sheesh!


  1. ofmariaantonia says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this Jerry Spinelli book! (My favourite of his books is Maniac Magee. And I also remember liking Loser, and Eggs.)

    With regards to Warden’s Daughter, I loved Eloda Pupko. And I also liked how the dad fits in at the end of the story!


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, it is nice that Cammie is being surrounded by a support system, even if she doesn’t recognize it. And I liked how part of that support entails Cammie being free to make her own mistakes and figure stuff out. They don’t coddle her, but help give her the tools she’ll need to be self-reliant in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I have only read Spinelli’s Maniac Magee as part of my Newbery Quest reading challenge. Until this moment, I didn’t consider he has other books… but there are quite a few of them!

    Do you feel like the prison setting and inmates were a lost opportunity? Or is this book focusing on Cammie more appropriate for the intention of the book and audience?


    • Krysta says:

      I don’t think the book was ever meant to be about prison life but about the mental bars of the protagonist. However, I’ve seen negative reviews from readers who seemed to think this was another All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, which focuses on how prisoners are perceived by outsiders, how people end up in prison, and so forth. They were upset the book didn’t address these issues. But, to me, the books are doing different things and shouldn’t be compared. So I wanted to clarify for people what they should expect going in.

      I also saw negative reviews from people who thought the protagonist was not sensitive enough to the prisoners and their issues. But…that’s the entire point of the book. Cammie isn’t likable. She’s selfish. And, no, she’s not going to give us an enlightened, 2018 vision of inmates. But, again, I think that’s the point. Readers aren’t supposed to imagine that Cammie’s thoughts are necessarily the “right” thoughts or the author’s thoughts.

      I think maybe this book would have been more successful if published a few years ago. However, since its protagonist doesn’t start out being enlightened about social issues, it seems to be a harder sell.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

        I appreciate the clarification. It’s easy to make assumptions that all MG/YA books have a lesson or moral about a current issue to our society. But that’s not always the case! Sometimes the setting is really just the setting. That also might be why readers aren’t taking to Cammie. She isn’t the aware protagonist we’re starting to see in recent publications. That said, it doesn’t sound like anything was missed, per say.


        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, I don’t have a problem with it, but I suppose people who go in expecting something different might be disappointed. But I kind of like that we’re seeing an unusual type of protagonist.

          Liked by 1 person

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