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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Novel

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Novel

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by Joanne Greenberg

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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


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.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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Chapter One

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.

Meet the Author

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

Joanne Greenberg is an internationally renowned, award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and collections of short stories, including I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. She lives with her husband in Colorado. They have two sons.

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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Jennisixx More than 1 year ago
All I have to say is wow. This book blew me away. It literally took you on a journey through a dark and tortured mind. You almost felt like you were in a nightmare/dream world. Everything felt real in a way.
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.
Rossa_Forbes More than 1 year ago
This book is a fictionalized version of the author's recovery from schizophrenia within the confines of a mental institution. Her journey (the book was published in 1963) was undertaken without the use of antipsychotics and her progress rested on good old-fashioned psychotherapy. It stands in refreshing and sharp contrast to the way mental illnesses have been treated since the 1970s. Through personal experience I have come to see the sorry state to which modern psychiatry has fallen in the intervening decades. Psychotherapy has been largely rejected as a therapy for schizophrenia in favour of antipsychotic medication. This situation is changing slightly because the drugs are finally beginning to be acknowledged as ineffective in the majority of patients. Psychotherapy is now getting a "re-think". What is remarkable about I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, apart from the sheer brilliance of its prose and insights, is that the author's recovery happened without a change of diet, the use of supplements or even energy medicine. It came about painfully, over time, through exploring the belief system that the young girl had constructed in order to protect herself from real and imagined family hurts. The exploration of the family belief system between the girl and her psychiatrist is very relevant to the Family Constellation Therapy that our family underwent. There is hardly any information on the market today about recovery from schizophrenia, beyond advice on continuing to take your medication, to have "realistic" expectations and to monitor yourself for signs of relapse. I believe that one of the explanations for this lack of information is that many doctors believe that recovery from schizophrenia is not possible and that anyone who "recovers" probably didn't have schizophrenia to begin with. (Joanne Greenberg would beg to differ.) Just getting off the medications is not recovery for most people. It is only the beginning of recovery. The roller coaster ride of recovery is painful and long. Set-backs often look like relapse. The temptation is always there to go back on the medications, which adds a further painful dimension, the worry over whether you are doing the right thing. Very few people believe, thanks to the power of the pharmaceutical lobby, that recovery is possible without medication. Many people believe that the medications are meant for life (and the doctors will tell you so). Many people are waiting for the next miracle drug - a drug that, in my opinion, will never fix the problems of the psyche.
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for the first time when I was about 14 and absolutely loved it! I have since read it at least 30 more times since then. My mom recommended it to me, still have her original book.
kathryn young More than 1 year ago
Its different but it is an amazing read i recommend it to anyone
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
I couldn't put this book down. Great insight into mental illness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My LA teacher was talking about this book and im glade i got to read it :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has been reviewed many, many times so I won't review it. Just a warning to those purchasing the Nook book version that the afterward is omitted. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was a young child. I think I was 9 or 10. 8 I loved the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago