A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Warden's Daughter, by Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee), is a sharp, beautifully written portrayal of a tween's grief, anger, and eventual healing. The book is written in Cammie's voice as a grandmother looking back on her tumultuous 13th summer in 1959. Many tweens will relate to Cammie's sense of isolation, though probably not her circumstances. There's a strong sense of community in the prison where Cammie lives, but the adults who should be closest to her seem emotionally unavailable. Spinelli shares some wisdom on struggling through intensely difficult emotions, but the justification for why the adults in Cammie's life don't give her the nurturing she needs undercuts his message. Cammie gets involved in some physical altercations, but most of the violence is told secondhand: Her mother died saving her from an oncoming truck, a man who killed a teen faces execution, and an important character commits suicide.
What's the story?
THE WARDEN'S DAUGHTER, Cammie, is being raised by her father in living quarters at the prison he oversees, with an inmate named Eloda as her latest caretaker. She's haunted by the death of her mother, who was struck and killed by a truck after shoving Cammie out of harm's way. Cammie feels motherless and adrift with bitter grief: She tries to provoke Eloda with increasingly outrageous behavior, she needily basks in the attention of female inmates (particularly Boo Boo, a shoplifter who smothers Cammie with affection), and she fights with her best friend, who's intent on boosting her own popularity. When a sudden, shocking loss knocks her into a deep depression, it takes an act of great empathy for Cammie to realize she isn't so alone.
Is it any good?
Newbery medalist Jerry Spinelli's story about a girl imprisoned by her own grief and anger is an achingly realistic story about confronting our demons, despite its contrived, too-easy ending. The Warden's Daughter is at its best as it follows Cammie furiously pedaling through the streets or holed up in the prison, nursing her wounded heart. The backward-looking narrative assures us that bad times do indeed pass. Spinelli dials up the sense of perspective with a strong historical setting: an era when the TV show American Bandstand is all the rage, girls don't play ball, and white kids steer clear of the black part of town.
Spinelli (Stargirl, Eggs) takes problematic shortcuts to clean up after Cammie's "bad time" -- post-epiphany, she swiftly goes from angry outcast to well-liked classmate, and the absence of nurturing adults is portrayed as deliberate and helpful. Another misstep is the stereotyping of Boo Boo, a joyful, obese black inmate who showers attention on Cammie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Cammie's efforts to provoke her father and Eloda in The Warden's Daughter. Do you -- or people you know -- sometimes act out to get attention when you're feeling hurt or lonely?
Cammie rides her bike when she's feeling angry. What do you do when you're overwhelmed by emotions such as anger?
Which caring adults in your life can empathize with what you're going through?
- Author: Jerry Spinelli
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: January 3, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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