Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

4.3 39
by Joanne Greenberg

See All Formats & Editions

The classic novel about a young woman’s struggle against madness, now a Holt Paperback, with a new afterword by the author

Hailed by The New York Times as "convincing and emotionally gripping" upon its publication in 1964, Joanne Greenberg’s semiautobiographical novel stands as a timeless and unforgettable portrayal of mental illness. Enveloped in


The classic novel about a young woman’s struggle against madness, now a Holt Paperback, with a new afterword by the author

Hailed by The New York Times as "convincing and emotionally gripping" upon its publication in 1964, Joanne Greenberg’s semiautobiographical novel stands as a timeless and unforgettable portrayal of mental illness. Enveloped in the dark inner kingdom of her schizophrenia, sixteen-year-old Deborah is haunted by private tormentors that isolate her from the outside world. With the reluctant and fearful consent of her parents, she enters a mental hospital where she will spend the next three years battling to regain her sanity with the help of a gifted psychiatrist. As Deborah struggles toward the possibility of the "normal" life she and her family hope for, the reader is inexorably drawn into her private suffering and deep determination to confront her demons.

A modern classic, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden remains every bit as poignant, gripping, and relevant today as when it was first published.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Convincing and emotionally gripping.” —The New York Times

“A rare and wonderful insight into the dark kingdom of the mind.” —Chicago Tribune

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

With a New Afterword by the Author

By Joanne Greenberg

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 Hannah Green
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-94359-2


They rode through the lush farm country in the middle of autumn, through quaint old towns whose streets showed the brilliant colors of turning trees. They said little. Of the three, the father was most visibly strained. Now and then he would place bits of talk into the long silences, random and inopportune things with which he himself seemed to have no patience. Once he demanded of the girl, whose face he had caught in the rearview mirror: "You know, don't you, that I was a fool when I married — a damn young fool who didn't know about bringing up children — about being a father?" His defense was half attack, but the girl responded to neither. The mother suggested that they stop for coffee. This was really like a pleasure trip, she said, in the fall of the year with their lovely young daughter and such beautiful country to see.

They found a roadside diner and turned in. The girl got out quickly and walked toward the restrooms behind the building. As she walked the heads of the two parents turned quickly to look after her. Then the father said, "It's all right."

"Should we wait here or go in?" the mother asked aloud, but to herself. She was the more analytical of the two, planning effects in advance — how to act and what to say — and her husband let himself be guided by her because it was easy and she was usually right. Now, feeling confused and lonely, he let her talk on — planning and figuring — because it was her way of taking comfort. It was easier for him to be silent.

"If we stay in the car," she was saying, "we can be with her if she needs us. Maybe if she comes out and doesn't see us ... But then it should look as if we trust her. She must feel that we trust her...."

They decided to go into the diner, being very careful and obviously usual about their movements. When they had seated themselves in a booth by the windows, they could see her coming back around the corner of the building and moving toward them; they tried to look at her as if she were a stranger, someone else's daughter to whom they had only now been introduced, a Deborah not their own. They studied the graceless adolescent body and found it good, the face intelligent and alive, but the expression somehow too young for sixteen.

They were used to a certain bitter precocity in their child, but they could not see it now in the familiar face that they were trying to convince themselves they could estrange. The father kept thinking: How could strangers be right? She's ours ... all her life. They don't know her. It's a mistake — a mistake!

The mother was watching herself watching her daughter. "On my surface ... there must be no sign showing, no seam — a perfect surface." And she smiled.

In the evening they stopped at a small city and ate at its best restaurant, in a spirit of rebellion and adventure because they were not dressed for it. After dinner, they went to a movie. Deborah seemed delighted with the evening. They joked through dinner and the movie, and afterward, heading out farther into the country darkness, they talked about other trips, congratulating one another on their recollection of the little funny details of past vacations. When they stopped at a motel to sleep, Deborah was given a room to herself, another special privilege for which no one knew, not even the parents who loved her, how great was the need.

When they were sitting together in their room, Jacob and Esther Blau looked at each other from behind their faces, and wondered why the poses did not fall away, now that they were alone, so that they might breathe out, relax, and find some peace with each other. In the next room, a thin wall away, they could hear their daughter undressing for bed. They did not admit to each other, even with their eyes, that all night they would be guarding against a sound other than her breathing in sleep — a sound that might mean ... danger. Only once, before they lay down for their dark watch, did Jacob break from behind his face and whisper hard in his wife's ear, "Why are we sending her away?"

"The doctors say she has to go," Esther whispered back, lying rigid and looking toward the silent wall.

"The doctors." Jacob had never wanted to put them all through the experience, even from the beginning.

"It's a good place," she said, a little louder because she wanted to make it so.

"They call it a mental hospital, but it's a place, Es, a place where they put people away. How can it be a good place for a girl — almost a child!"

"Oh, God, Jacob," she said, "how much did it take out of us to make the decision? If we can't trust the doctors, who can we ask or trust? Dr. Lister says that it's the only help she can get now. We have to try it!" Stubbornly she turned her head again, toward the wall.

He was silent, conceding to her once more; she was so much quicker with words than he. They said good night; each pretended to sleep, and lay, breathing deeply to delude the other, eyes aching through the darkness, watching.

* * *

On the other side of the wall Deborah stretched to sleep. The Kingdom of Yr had a kind of neutral place, which was called the Fourth Level. It was achieved only by accident and could not be reached by formula or an act of will. At the Fourth Level there was no emotion to endure, no past or future to grind against. There was no memory or possession of any self, nothing except dead facts which came unbidden when she needed them and which had no feeling attached to them.

Now, in bed, as she achieved the Fourth Level, a future was of no concern to her. The people in the next room were supposedly her parents. Very well. But that was part of a shadowy world that was dissolving and now she was being flung unencumbered into a new one in which she had not the slightest concern. In moving from the old world, she was moving also from the intricacies of Yr's Kingdom, from the Collect of Others, the Censor, and the Yri gods. She rolled over and slept a deep, dreamless, and restful sleep.

In the morning the family started on its trip again. It occurred to Deborah, as the car pulled away from the motel and out into the sunny day, that the trip might last forever and that the calm and marvelous freedom she felt might be a new gift from the usually too demanding gods and offices of Yr.

After a few hours of riding through more brown and golden country and sun-dappled town streets, the mother said, "Where is the turnoff, Jacob?"

In Yr a voice shrieked out of the deep Pit: Innocent! Innocent!

From freedom, Deborah Blau smashed headlong into the collision of the two worlds. As always before it was a weirdly silent shattering. In the world where she was most alive, the sun split in the sky, the earth erupted, her body was torn to pieces, her teeth and bones crazed and broken to fragments. In the other place, where the ghosts and shadows lived, a car turned into a side drive and down a road to where an old redbrick building stood. It was Victorian, a little run-down, and surrounded by trees. Very good façade for a madhouse. When the car stopped in front of it, she was still stunned with the collision, and it was hard to get out of the car and walk properly up the steps and into the building, where the doctors would be. There were bars on all the windows. Deborah smiled slightly. It was fitting. Good.

When Jacob Blau saw the bars, he paled. In the face of this, it was no longer possible to say to himself "rest home" or "convalescent care." The truth was as bare and cold for him as the iron. Esther tried to reach him with her mind: We should have expected them. Why should we be so surprised?

They waited, Esther Blau trying still to be gay now and then. Except for the barred windows the room was like an ordinary waiting room and she joked about the age of the magazines there. From a distance down the hall they heard the grate of a large key in a lock and again Jacob stiffened, moaning softly, "Not for her — our little Debby...." He did not see the sudden, ruthless look in his daughter's face.

The doctor walked down the hall, and steeled himself a little before entering the room. He was a squared-off, blunt-bodied man and now he dived into the room, where their anguish seemed to hang palpably. It was an old building, a frightening place to come to, he knew. He would try to get the girl away soon and the parents comforted enough to leave her, feeling that they had done the right thing.

Sometimes in this room, at the last minute, the parents, husbands, wives, turned with loathing from the truth of the awful, frightening sickness. Sometimes they took their strange-eyed ones away again. It was fear, or bad judgment well meant enough, or — his eyes appraised the two parents again — that straying grain of jealousy and anger that would not let the long line of misery be severed a generation beyond their own. He tried to be compassionate but not foolish, and soon he was able to send for a nurse to take the girl to the wards. She looked like a shock victim. As she left, he felt the wrench of her going in the two parents.

He promised them that they could say good-by to her before they left, and surrendered them to the secretary with her pad of information to be gotten. When he saw them again, leaving after their good-by, they, too, looked like people in shock, and he thought briefly: wound-shock — the cutting-away of a daughter.

Jacob Blau was not a man who studied himself, or who looked back over his life to weigh and measure its shape. At times, he suspected his wife of being voracious, picking over her passions again and again with endless words and words. But part of this feeling was envy. He, too, loved his daughters, though he had never told them so; he, too, had wished confidences, but was never able to open his own heart; and, because of this, they had also been kept from venturing their secrets. His oldest daughter had just parted from him, almost eagerly, in that grim place of locks and bars, turning away from his kiss, stepping back. She had not seemed to want comfort from him, almost shrinking from touch. He was a man of tempers and now he needed a rage that was cleansing, simple, and direct. But the anger here was so laced with pity, fear, and love that he did not know how he could free himself of it. It lay writhing and stinking inside him, and he began to feel the old, slow-waking ache of his ulcer.


They took Deborah to a small, plain room, guarding her there until the showers were empty. She was watched there also, by a woman who sat placidly in the steam and looked her up and down as she dried herself. Deborah did what she was told dutifully, but she kept her left arm slightly turned inward, so as to hide from sight the two small, healing puncture wounds on the wrist. Serving the new routine, she went back to the room and answered some questions about herself put to her by a sardonic doctor who seemed to be displeased. It was obvious that he did not hear the roaring behind her.

Into the vacuum of the Midworld where she stood between Yr and Now, the Collect was beginning to come to life. Soon they would be shouting curses and taunts at her, deafening her for both worlds. She was fighting against their coming the way a child, expecting punishment, anticipates it by striking out wildly. She began to tell the doctor the truth about some of the questions he was asking. Let them call her lazy and a liar now. The roar mounted a little and she could hear some of the words in it. The room offered no distraction. To escape engulfment there was only the Here, with its ice-cold doctor and his notebook, or Yr with its golden meadows and gods. But Yr also held its regions of horror and lostness, and she no longer knew to which kingdom in Yr there was passage. Doctors were supposed to help in this.

She looked at the one who sat fading amid the clamor and said, "I told you the truth about these things you asked. Now are you going to help me?"

"That depends on you," he said acidly, shut his notebook, and left. A specialist, laughed Anterrabae, the Falling God.

Let me go with you, she begged him, down and down beside him because he was eternally falling.

So it shall be, he said. His hair, which was fire, curled a little in the wind of the fall.

That day and the next she spent on Yr's plains, simple long sweeps of land where the eye was soothed by the depth of space.

For this great mercy, Deborah was deeply grateful to the Powers. There had been too much blindness, cold, and pain in Yr these past hard months. Now, as by the laws of the world, her image walked around and answered and asked and acted; she, no longer Deborah, but a person bearing the appropriate name for a dweller on Yr's plains, sang and danced and recited the ritual songs to a caressing wind that blew on the long grasses.

For Jacob and Esther Blau the way home was no shorter than the way to the hospital had been. Although Deborah was not with them, their freedom to say what they really wanted to say was even more circumscribed than before.

Esther felt that she knew Deborah better than her husband did. To her, it had not been the childish attempt at suicide that had begun this round of doctors and decisions. She sat in the car beside her husband wanting to tell him that she was grateful for the silly and theatrical wrist-cutting. At last a dragging suspicion of something subtly and terribly wrong had had outlet in a fact. The half-cup of blood on the bathroom floor had given all their nebulous feelings and vague fears weight, and she had gone to the doctor the next day. Now she wanted to show Jacob the many things he did not know, but she knew she could not do it without hurting him. She looked over at him driving with his eyes hard on the road and his face set. "We'll be able to visit her in a month or two," she said.

Then they began to construct the story that they would tell their acquaintances and those relatives who were not close or whose prejudices did not allow for mental hospitals in the family. For them, the hospital was to be a school, and for Suzy, who had heard the word "sick" too many times in the past month and had been puzzled too often and deeply before that, there was to be something about anemia or weakness and a special convalescent school. Papa and Mama would be told that everything was fine ... a sort of rest home. They already knew about the psychiatrist and his recommendation, but the look of the place would have to change in the telling, and the high, hard scream that they had heard from one of the barred windows as they left, and that had made them shiver and grit their teeth, would have to be expunged. The scream had made Esther wonder if they had not really been wrong after all; the scream would have to be kept locked in her heart as Deborah in That Place.

Dr. Fried got up from her chair and went to the window. It faced away from the hospital buildings and over a small garden beyond which lay the grounds where the patients walked. She looked at the report in her hand. Against the weight of three typewritten pages were balanced the lectures she would not be able to give, the writing she would have to neglect, and the counseling of doctors that she would have to refuse if she took this case. She liked working with patients. Their very illness made them examine sanity as few "sane" people could. Kept from loving, sharing, and simple communication, they often hungered for it with a purity of passion that she saw as beautiful.

Sometimes, she thought ruefully, the world is so much sicker than the inmates of its institutions. She remembered Tilda, in the hospital in Germany, at a time when Hitler was on the other side of its walls and not even she could say which side was sane. Tilda's murderous hate, bound down on beds, tube-fed, and drugged into submission, could still fade long enough to let the light in now and then. She remembered Tilda looking up at her, smiling in a travesty of genteel politeness from the canvas-bound bed, and saying, "Oh, do come in, dear Doctor. You are just in time for the patient's soothing tea and the end of the world."

Tilda and Hitler were both gone and now there was more and more to tell the younger doctors who were coming out of the schools with too little experience of life. Is it fair to take private patients when any real improvement may take years, and when thousands and tens of thousands are clamoring, writing, phoning, and begging for help? She laughed, catching in herself the vanity she had once called the doctor's greatest enemy next to his patient's illness. If one by one was good enough for God, it would have to do for her.

She sat down with the folder, opened it, and read it through:

BLAU, DEBORAH F. 16 yrs. Prev. Hosp: None


1. Testing: Tests show high (140-150) intelligence, but patterns disturbed by illness. Many questions misinterpreted and overpersonalized. Entire subjective reaction to interview and testing. Personality tests show typically schizophrenic pattern with compulsive and masochistic component.


Excerpted from I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg. Copyright © 2004 Hannah Green. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joanne Greenberg is an internationally renowned, award-winning author of 13 novels and four collections of short stories. She lives with her husband in Colorado. They have two sons.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden is about a 16-year-old schizophrenic girl named Deborah Blau. It tells of Deborah's life in a mental hospital, but it is quite confusing as it switches back aand fourth from Deborah's hallucinations and reality. I would recommend to people 16 years of age and older. For younger people, just read carefully, and try to recognize which is Deborah's mind, and which is real life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book makes you really think about the points that were given. At some points in the book I had to think is this something that I have ever experienced. This book is good, but you have to stick with it at first, but as you go on the book gets better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A more vivid picture of insanity and mental illness could not be created with words alone. From the first page I was hooked. Joanne's description and story telling drew me in to the story so that I was more than a reader, more than an observer. I was an active participant. This story shattered the illusions of insanity that we have created and shows the reality of the afflictions that have changed little in the last 50 years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader who always wants a good book. My mother found me a copy and i started reading it... I couldn't believe how amazing it was. For all those other teens who feel insecure and need a heartening, true story, or anyone who just wants a wonderful book, I wish I could give it 10 more stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 8th grade (I'm almost through my 9th grade year now) and the memory of it surfaced after I watched the movie 'Girl, Interrupted.' This was a wonderful book... Now that I finally remembered the title, I can't wait to buy it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes you find a book that touches a deep core inside you. Those books don't come along often, but this is one of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eh, this is a great book!, it has helped me a lot in my life. Ive been thru an awful lot and I used to retreat into myself a lot, not the point of insanity tho. This book has helped me to understand the depths of it all. It is very well written, confusin at the beginning, but just keep on reading it and read it slowly to grasp the meaning of it all. Totally reccomend it to everyone who is interested in good psychological-like books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was twelve or thirteen when I was going through a similarly rough time and I was so caught up in the book I forgot if IT was real or just a book. I have read it many times since then and almost know it by heart. Its a book I never get sick of and I have recommended it to several friends
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very thought-provoking read. I was thirteen when I read this, and I remember being extremely impressed by it. Deborah's inabliity to cope with reality touched me, because I identified with her dilemma. This book is so unique, it deals with adolescence in a way that is intriguing and non-conventional. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden' is an engaging, insightful story. It's hard not to identify with our young heroine, regardless of whether you're afflicted with mental illness or not. One of the main messages I gleaned from it is that medication may not be the answer for everyone, and the relationship with one's doctor is critical for proper healing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you don't understand how someone can be a stranger in her own world, her own family and her own body - you should read this book. "I never promised you a rosegarden" is a tragic, yet uplifting, story about a girls struggle to be free from her schizofrenia. It also gives you a little understanding of how living itself can be an enormous struggle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is spell binding and wrenches at the heartstrings. I highly reccomend this wonderful, insightful book into the world of mental illness
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was required reading when I was in HS over 10+ years ago! I'm looking forward to reading it again as an adult and rediscovering what touched me so many years ago.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I never promised you a rose garden was amazing! I picked up the book because my 16 year old friend is going throught the same thing Deb (main character) is and at first thought i would skim it. The first paragraph hooked me! I now recommend it to all my friends!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was sixteen, and I just reread it. (I'm now 31.) I loved it when I was sixteen, and I still love it. The story is well-written, and insightful. The main character's experience with schizophrenia is frightening and compelling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great. Joanne Greenberg is one of my favorite authors because she never lets you down.I am in 9th grade and I had to read this book for an out side reading project and it kept my attention the whole time that I was reading it. This book is great for people that like stories with a twist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
wow!this boook was good.too see how someone can change over time &end up living pretty well.i loved it and i know anyone else would.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think one of the good key points that the book is trying to convey is that the fine line between sanity and insanity is as thin as a thread. The fine line between the cruelty of insane world of a mental patience and the harshness of the sane world that we live in is even thinner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book I Never Promised You A Rose Garden is about a 16 year old schizophrenic named Deborah Blau learning to cope with the real world with the help of her brilliant doctor. I recommend this book to anyone over the age of 16, who is also comfortable with their sanity.