Book Review

Ward D By Freida McFadden

Ward D

  • Author: Freida McFadden
  • Genre: Mystery/Thriller
  • Publication Date: May 9, 2023
  • Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Thank you to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing me with an ALC of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Medical student Amy Brenner is spending the night on a locked psychiatric ward.

Amy has been dreading her evening working on Ward D, the hospital’s inpatient mental health unit. There are very specific reasons why she never wanted to do this required overnight rotation. Reasons nobody can ever find out.

And as the hours tick by, Amy grows increasingly convinced something terrible is happening within these tightly secured walls. When patients and staff start to vanish without a trace, it becomes clear that everyone on the unit is in grave danger.

Amy’s worst nightmare was spending the night on Ward D.

And now she might never escape.

Freida McFadden is one of those authors that everyone seems to have read (and enjoyed) but me. When I saw an audiobook written by her featuring a locked room mystery set in a psychiatric ward, it sounded far too intriguing to pass up. But this one feel way short of the expectations that I had.

To start with, it’s narrated by Leslie Howard. She did a good job with this, but she has a very young-sounding voice in this story. That, combined with the overly young-sounding writing made it come across as a YA book, and I found myself checking more than once that this wasn’t actually YA but an adult title. I had to tell myself several times that the MC, Amy, couldn’t be a medical student if she was still in high school.

The plot itself wasn’t bad. I wanted to know what was actually going on behind the scenes, because it was clear that something was fishy, but I couldn’t quite put all of the pieces together. 

However, as someone with a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, and having had worked with people who had severe mental illnesses much like the people in the hospital in this book, I was astounded at how poor the mental health representation was. It felt like the author just kind of checked out a few diagnoses in the DSM and then figured that she knew enough about it to write a book. The psychiatric care, how the unit functioned, medical ethics, mental illness, and even Amy’s skills are all represented so poorly in this story.

My biggest issue with this book is that it portrays the majority of people with mental illness as violent. In a world where violence is rampant, there’s no need to further stigmatize an already struggling population with a false label. According to the American Psychological Association, less than 3% of people with serious mental illness are violent, and those that are have other risk factors for violence. People who have mental illness are sick and need treatment, not judgment and fear directed their way. And this book doesn’t help the stigma.

Amy is portrayed as a medical student, and is in her third year (I believe). However, when she’s instructed to give an intramuscular injection, she completely froze and had no idea what to do. This is probably one of the easiest things a person can do, I’ve been giving myself intramuscular injections at home for my disability for years, and I learned from the insert how to do it. After three years in medical school, I’d expect her to have learned that and a whole lot more, but she seemed so ignorant about anything related to medical or psychiatric treatment. As for the psychiatric diagnoses, she sounded like she read straight from the DSM rather than actually knowing the information.

As a therapist, I often visited clients who were inpatient in hospitals across Long Island, where the book is set. I’ve never seen solitary rooms in a regular hospital setting, although they may have them in units for people designated as “criminally insane.” But this was set in just a regular inpatient psych unit, where if someone has to be restrained, it’s done in their room. Regular checks are done, which were completely missing in this book. I was shocked to see a hospital without a backup generator in the event of a power outage. In addition, the ethical issue of Amy’s fears with having an overnight shift at Ward D was completely overlooked.

Overall, this was a quick read, but definitely wasn’t a good one. The inconsistencies and harmful mental health representation moved this one right to the bottom of my list, and I don’t think I’ll be jumping on the Freida McFadden bandwagon anytime soon after this. I much prefer to read books that actually represent a stigmatized population in a realistic and non-harmful way.

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