I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Joanne Greenberg’s 1964 novel tells the story of Deborah Blau, a teenage girl inflicted with schizophrenia and her stay in a mental hospital. Via therapy she is able to understand the world she created as a defense against the evil reality of this world is not the reality she needs to live with if she wants to overcome she sickness.

Through the pages you come to know Deborah and the world of Yr she created to live in. The people of Yr keep her convinced this reality is better than the Earth world as she has friends in the Yr world and not in the real world. The Earth world only offers her prejudice, physical trauma, friend and family abandonment. Her doctor, Clara Fried, slowly convinces her that Earth reality is really the better reality even with the tribulations and trials that come with living on the Surface. Slowly, Deborah begins to see that.

Deborah takes steps to live outside of the hospital eventually earning a GED. It looks as though she is going to move on from the hospital but the final pages revel the hospital and the sickness will probably stay with her for a while longer.

Near the end of the story, after Deborah earns her GED and the future looks promising and bright, which is most of our experiences after earning a degree, completing a class or succeeding in something difficult for us, her father (probably unintentionally) doesn’t offer the level of praise that would encourage Deborah to further greatness but offers a limp acknowledgement of her achievement that sends Deborah back to the hospital in despair. Isn’t that typical? We strive to earn, expand beyond our comfort zone, climb a hill or ladder that should mean ‘something’ to those who can (should) offer overflowing praise, yet don’t. It is discouraging. They see it as nonconsequential where Deborah sees her achievement as the beginning of something new, something better.

Afterwards, Deborah walks back to the hospital and we leave the story at that point. We see her sitting at a table in the ward. She asks for her school books so she can study as the ward continues in the normal chaos of a mental institution. This gives us hope that she will overcome the parental discouragement and will continue with her education, continue her struggles to improve and overcome her sickness and eventually live on the Surface outside of the hospital for the long term.

Although somewhat depressing, the conclusion of the story is true to reality where sometimes the sickness doesn’t go away immediately but we need to struggle to eventually struggle less.

There is a great resource for the novel here much better than my commentary. I would place this novel on the same level as Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It is worth a second and third read.

Scan of the copy of Joanne Greenberg’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” that I read.

When I read this novel again I will buy a different copy. The copy I read was a normal paperback, probably printed a few years after the initial publication. The copy I bought from Thriftbooks.com was brittle, old, yellow with age and extremely hard to hold open. I don’t regret buying the copy from Thriftbooks.com but my old man hands had a hard time holding this copy. But I struggled and eventually finished.

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