Judge’s Commentary

I entered the Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards Competition. Apparently I didn’t win, but I did get this nice commentary out of it:


Entry Title: Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions.
Author: Bob Larsted
Judge Number: 88
Entry Category: Life Stories

This is a very candid and carefully crafted look at the author’s young daughter as she struggles with a number of mental challenges. The author’s background as an engineer is both an asset and a parallel here; his skills at problem-solving as an engineer act as a mirror of his attempts to find professional help for his daughter as she struggles with suicidal impulses, depression, and other phobias. It is a no-holds-barred narrative without being overly dramatic. In addition, the volume carefully documents (as an engineer would do) the discovery process of finding the right help as the daughter’s needs change and as she ages. There are sample questionnaires, checklists, prompts, and questions that the author encountered as the guardi[an] and parent. Thus the volume proves instructive as well as informative all while sharing very candid and honest details about one family’s journey with mental illness. The author uses a clear writing style (again, as one might expect from an engineer’s orderly mind), but he also uses repetition and short, dramatic sentences as a way of building tension, releasing tension and pacing the work. For traditionalists, this abundant use of sentence fragments might seem too bumpy; others will find it effective. The cover is eye-catching but not clearly connected. The subhead, “My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions,” seems off kilter in that there is very little humor attempted here. In fact, the earnest tone is one of the volume’s assets. If that is meant as a satirical statement, it’s not clear.

— Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards

Second Book Review

The second review is in for my book, Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions. I’m pleased. I’ve excerpted it here.




My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions.
Larsted, Bob
CreateSpace (262 pp.)
ISBN: 9781468150131; January 11, 2013


In this accessible, chatty memoir about his daughter’s struggles with mental illness, first-time writer Larsted narrates, in exhaustive detail, his rocky four-year journey navigating the perilous mental-health system, his daughter’s shape-shifting symptoms, intermittent hospital stays and behavioral therapy.

Larsted’s book is a labor of love addressed to a parent like him—one not well versed in the mental health field or particularly aware of the psychological sphere of the human condition—and yet thrown into the dark, deep end of it. The alarm first sounded when his 14-year-old daughter, Patricia, reported, two months after the fact, that she took 14 Tylenol. Larsted, starting from ground zero, had to find the guidance and treatment his daughter required. Because of his wife’s recent stroke, it was left to him to handle. Although the author considers this Patricia’s story, it’s Larsted who goes from being a self-described “aloof” old-school father to a nurturing, articulate advocate and near expert on coping with a child’s severe, undiagnosed mental illness. He emerges on the other side having kept Patricia safe through her precarious adolescence and having evolved into a wise and soulful man. Larsted’s prose is admirable in many ways: He writes with emotional honesty, deftly uses metaphor and analogy, balances the specifics of both the trial and error of medication and sympathetically details his often frustrating experiences dealing with psychiatrists. …

A heartfelt, valuable resource and source of comfort for parents of mentally ill children.

First Book Review

The first review is in for my book, Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions. Wow! Is that what it is about?


ForeWord Reviews
Clarion Review


Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times: A Comedy of Emotions
Bob Larsted
Four Stars (out of Five)

Bob Larsted isn’t the type of person who works out his problems in public. He had always made a point of “avoiding speaking in public—or to anyone for that matter.” And yet, the introverted engineer has written a moving memoir about his quest to find answers for his daughter as she struggled with serious mental illness. Witness to the Dark tells the very human story of a father who is just trying to do the right thing, even when he has no idea what that thing might be. Larsted’s self-effacing humor sets the tone for a book that easily could have become drowned in drama. The situation is undeniably dire. Larsted’s daughter Patricia has attempted suicide several times. She hears voices and has friends nobody else can see. Patricia spends her teen years cycling through hospitals and treatment programs, none of which offers a permanent cure. And yet, Larsted never resorts to a “woe is me” lament. Instead, he opts for an engineer’s problem-solving orientation: “Here’s what I did. Here’s how it went. And here’s how I screwed it up time after time and how I kept trying anyway.” Not surprisingly, sometimes it worked for him.

Larsted points fingers not just at his own frequent follies but also at the American mental health system that failed to provide consistent, competent treatment. Each chapter is headed with a simple illustration of Patricia’s ever-changing medication regimen—cut the round one in half, take two of the diamonds, and add one of the oblong—that calls vivid attention to the fact that her doctors are scrambling for a solution rather than planning a considered course of treatment. In all of this, Larsted is pretty much on his own. His wife, Kate, is recovering from a stroke, and his younger daughter, Beth, is busy being a normal teenager. Whatever role they played in Patricia’s treatment is minimized; Larsted chooses to leave them out of the narrative to honor their privacy, a move that may have been unnecessary given that “Bob Larsted” is itself a pen name, and all of the family names are invented as well.

Poems and e-mails from Patricia, notes to and from doctors, and some spot-on analogies about handling emergencies round out Larsted’s tendency to make a lot of lists. There are lists of Patricia’s dreams, lists of medications, lists of the dreaded phone calls to therapists (and the inevitable failure of the therapists to call back). Larsted acknowledges his own compulsive tendencies, though, with self-deprecating comments and gentle humor.

Parents will identify with Larsted’s tenacity in getting treatment for his troubled daughter, as well as the missteps he makes along the way. While he honestly recounts the enormous struggles he has faced, his story also offers hope that even the most ordinary parents can rise to the challenge and find help for their child.

Sheila M. Trask