Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children by Susan Tarr

Synopsis and author’s note:

I was raised within the community of the New Zealand, Seacliff Mental Hospital village during the 1950s, with each of our family members working in the psychiatric hospital at some time or another. We sometimes shared our primary school with young patients who came down from the hospital. On turning fifteen we often worked up the hill, helping in the canteen, laundry, wards or occupational therapy. From a young age we absorbed the stories, and it was difficult to know where fiction ended and the greater truth took over.

To separate the truths from the almost-truths at this stage would be an impossible task as many of those concerned have died. Therefore I have blended together various stories in this narrative as representative of our family and friends' combined belief of what most probably did happen during the period covered by this narrative. Wherever possible, I have used correct dates, names and places. When there is a modicum of doubt in my mind I have changed names and details for the protection of those still living.

As a child I knew Malcolm, who was then a young man, since Dad often invited him home for meals. He was one of the lost children, those forgotten or abandoned by their families. We followed Malcolm's story from childhood to adulthood as best we could even after he was eventually discharged back into the community. When considering the tragedy and abuse of Malcolm's wasted earlier years, it is a story of immeasurable sadness. Yet he ultimately rose above it all, and with admirable strength, courage and innate resilience, was finally able to 'free the regular boy within' as he had always wanted.

This is Malcolm's story as I believe it unfolded

My review:

I can’t give this book enough stars. I love true stories about people’s lives. It makes me feel so normal and grateful for the things and people I have in my live. I’ve had a fab childhood and just wish I could pass some of what of that proper childhood experience on Malcolm.

Malcolm has been in the mental health institution as long as he can remember. And what he can remember isn’t much. He is allowed to live on the outside for a while to be part of the real world, but a freak incident in the house sends him straight back to The Building for more electro-shock therapy and years of healing.

As Malcolm starts to remember bits of his past, the reader is taking on a journey of love, pain, rejection and distraction of a little innocent boy. Malcolm introduces us to his friends (inmates, patients – whatever you want to call them) and tells us their sad stories whilst trying to piece his own life back together.

This is definitely a book of hope. Malcolm is such a lovely character, but his story (and those of his friends) leaves you feeling sad and angry at how people were treated just for being that little bit different, or happy in a way ‘normal’ people didn’t understand.

Brilliant book I would highly recommend to anyone wishing to find out more about the lost souls of the unwanted.

Thank you to the author and TBConFB for access to this book in return for this honest review.

My rating: 5/5

Author’s Twitter: @SusanMTarr

Available to purchase from:


  1. I cannot thank you enough for this awesome review, Jirinka! You got inside Malcolm's head and his heart. That warms me.

  2. You are very welcome Susan. Thank you for such a beautiful book.