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Reviewed by Lisa McCombs for Readers' Favorite
As a nurse in a state institution for the criminally and mentally disturbed, nurse Mary becomes involved with a young inmate who appears to exhibit none of the characteristics of a dangerous flight risk of which she was labeled. Fatherless, Melby’s mother was brutally murdered by an escapee from the local mental hospital; she is left with no one but a heartless aunt and a spoiled cousin. A well-loved rag doll is Melby’s only friend. When her abusive cousin attacks her doll, Melby physically strikes out against him. Her legal guardian sends her to live at the state mental hospital, where she is treated as a dangerous resident. Melby works hard to cultivate a positive reputation with Mary’s help and the support of an outside public educator. Melby eventually evolves into an independent young woman and advocate for mental health.
Author Melinda Spiker Chambers tackles the realities of mental health in her short novel Melby. As a resident of Weston, West Virginia, Melinda grew up in the same town as the state mental hospital, where patients with troubled mental states or victims of post-traumatic conditions were treated in the late 1950s until the 1970s. Not until the author left the area did she understand or even realize the negative stigma attached to the state hospital, which is currently open as a tourist attraction for haunted tours. The threat of escapees was not uncommon and became the fodder of many a child’s and adults' nightmares. Relatable dialogue and fuel for healthy debate highlight this easy-to-read memoir-style piece of fiction.