BOOK REVIEW: Sanders' Starfish by Tara C Allred

Dr. John Sanders is about to begin his career as a clinical psychologist. Full of optimism, he believes he can make a difference and is eager to provide hope to a group the world has deemed hopeless. Yet in John's quest to offer those in his care a second chance, he embarks on his own journey of self-discovery. In his search, clear answers become scrambled confusion while the unimaginable truth is trapped in a complex web. 

Have you ever sat down to write a review but you really don't know how to get started?  OK, well yeah like every single review I write.  This time it's more a I liked this book, but...There are some things that didn't work for me.  Before I start my usual picking lets talk about the story.  John Sanders is young, idealistic, following something he chose as a passion while still just a child and dealing with his mother's own mental illness.  This is not overly fleshed out in the story and that's OK.  It seems this is part of a potential series so hopefully more is fleshed out in the future.  He finds a job at a private mental institution, when private is quickly becoming a think of the past due to insurance cuts and the cheaper easier route of state care.  He's given patients to work with that honestly, some should never been handed over to a newbie, but that's just me.  Especially to a newbie that you haven't fleshed out yet and these patients lead to bigger secrets of the administration.  And as we all know secrets lead to drama, conflict, and coverups.  And there sits John, the newbie trying to dig it all out

Here's where it gets complicated for me.  It is hard to find a fiction book about mental illness that adequately and appropriately portrays mental illness.  This book does that, somewhat but then it falls so flat with the interactions of those illnesses.  John leads these in-depth group sessions with his patients where he talks with them as though they were his undergrad peers.  Deep, thoughtful, here's the steps that you need to take and how I can help you get there if you want to do the work.  But then in one on one conversations with those same patients the dialogue feels stilted, flat and at times almost like he is speaking to a child and not an adult diagnosed with a mental illness.  This childish, stilted and flat conversation style carries over into conversations with his superiors, administration and even friends.  There is good here but it's hiding behind the not so good.  Even the title is so well painted to the idea behind the book.  The story has so much merit but could really be improved with additional rewriting and some good editing.  

On the idea of rewriting I find some huge formatting issues that also made the book difficult to enjoy.  There are obvious breaks in the story that change location or time and are well marked.  Other times the story will jump location or even time from one paragraph to the next without any notation that it's happening.  Sometimes it was hard to follow the train of thought.  Things that would again benefit from additional editing and rewriting.  Beyond that there are elements of how things play out that are slightly far-fetched but make a great story.  Additional back story and plot building would make these ideas work better. (SPOILER - John meets girl who happens to be a reporter.  They go in to interview the administration over the things that he discovered that caused him to be fired. No one questions him showing up with a reporter who has a scheduled interview?  Really?)  

At the base of the book there's a really good story to be told here.  However, a thorough going over by a good set of beta readers (not friends who will tell you what you want to here but readers who will help to build and create a better overall story) and some additional editing are needed.  The story is worth reading. It's worth saving.  It's worth the effort.  But there's a lot of hills to climb for this to be the amazing book I know it can be.  Still worth the read and I'm not in any way disappointed that I did read it.  Or even that I do own it.

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Sanders' Starfish (John Sanders Book 1)
About Tara C Allred
TARA C. ALLRED is an award-winning author, instructional designer, and educator. She has been recognized as a California Scholar of the Arts for Creative Writing and is a recipient of the Howey awards for Best Adult Book and Best Adult Author. She lives in Utah with her husband.

Her published works include Sanders' Starfish, Unauthored Letters, and The Other Side of Quiet, a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist and Whitney Award Winner.

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