Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Institutionalized / AJ Grillo

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery/Horror

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


No information available.


“Welcome to Roland's Children Psychiatric Center. Tony Mandushio thought he had it all figured out. That was until he was sent to a psychiatric center. He finds himself immersed into a situation he never saw coming. For thirty days his life is turned completely upside down as he makes lifelong friends and mortal enemies. However, it's not just about Tony as there are other children who must face the rigors of young adulthood. Their only chance for survival is to overcome their fears and resist the obstacles that attempt to prevent them.”


Several times, I’ve seen variations on the complaint that “Amazon’s self publishing platform allows an author to upload his first draft and expect people to pay for it.” While true, this is the first time I’ve actually seen a book where I wondered if that had happened. On the plus side, Institutionalized appeared to have been spell-checked first. Amusing, at least to me when considering the comments of those complainers, it found its way to Amazon via Lulu, another self-publishing platform that pre-dates Amazon’s KDP.

An attempt to list the problems with the writing I found would require writing a book of my own. It might be an exaggeration to claim that every common beginning writer mistake made an appearance. It wouldn’t be a very big exaggeration. I’ll try to hit a few of the low points as examples.

At a high level, the protagonist is unlikeable. Enough so that a typical reader isn’t going to care what happens to him. At a more detailed level, there are scenes that have no relevance. The author seems to think chronicling every move by every character and every event is required, whether related to the story or not. At a detailed level, the writing was just plain bad. Here is an example that is far from the worst, but representative:

Everything was fine until one of the girls, Sarah, started to cry. Ms. Fernandez rushed to her side. Ms. Fernandez managed to calm Sarah and she stopped crying. The weird thing was the girl didn’t know why she was crying. The staff would eventually find out the girl was manic depressant.

I might rewrite this as, “Everything was fine until Sarah started to cry. Ms. Fernandez rushed over and managed to calm her. When asked, Sarah had no idea why she was crying.”

My rewrite still isn’t that good, but is a vast improvement on the original, saying everything that matters in half the words. The reader knows Sarah is “one of the girls.” Constant repeating of names, an extreme problem in this book, is often an indication of unclear, verbose writing, in need of more editing. The omniscient narrator of the story is constantly interpreting what is happening to tell us its meaning and what the characters are feeling (telling instead of showing).

The last line of the example paragraph is illustrative of one issue I saw many times. The narrator keeps telling us things that will happen in the future, but that aren’t pertinent to the story. If pertinent, we should usually find out when it happens. There are numerous instances of ham-handed foreshadowing; for example, constantly saying that the characters lives are going to “be changed forever” or that someone was eventually going to die.

There may be a good story buried in Institutionalized, but a reader is never going to find it while the book is in this condition. After many rewrites and a good editing job, that might be possible, although I’m not going to hold my breath. If this writer is serious about being an author he (or she) would do well to grow an extremely thick skin, read all the books on the craft of writing he can, and practice, practice, practice. Eventually a critique group would also be valuable, although joining one now might be premature.


Adult language and some sexual situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

Although there were few if any non-words (the author obviously knows how to use spell check), there were numerous issues with incorrect words, improper grammar, and other proofing and copy-editing miscues.

Rating: * One star