What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this story can be intense and disturbing as it follows a teenage girl's experiences in a mental hospital in the early 1950s. It describes her fantasy world, throwing the reader into her distorted version of reality. Patients can be violent, abusive, and full of self-loathing. The main character was bullied as a child for being Jewish; there are several harsh examples of anti-Semitism. Note, however, that unlike some recent memoirs, readers will not find graphic descriptions of a horrific childhood here.
What's the story?
When Deborah's parents take the 16-year-old to a mental institution after she tries to commit suicide, they expect it will be for a short while. Instead, Deborah spends three years there, often on the violent "D" ward. Based on the author's true experience in the \ early 1950s, the fictionalized memoir introduces readers to the hospital's own unique culture and inhabitants. As she works with a therapist to manage schizophrenia, Deborah must release her fantasy world of Yr -- where she speaks a foreign language and follows imposed rules -- and decide to join the uncertain reality of real life.
Is it any good?
The power of I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN comes about halfway through, when readers are so engrossed in Deborah and the other patients' thinking that even diagnosed "craziness" starts to seem, if not logical, then at least reasonable. Like any contained society, the patients relate by unspoken rules and codes; it is an often fascinating and disturbing look at a mostly hidden culture.
Readers accustomed to the tell-all nature of talk shows and first-person memoirs may keep reading for that horrific twist, the forbidden secret as to why Deborah is mentally ill. They won't find it. This story is a testament to the slow, hard work of building trust and connections between patient and therapist, and between reality and fantasy. Deborah's gradual steps may sometimes frustrate an impatient reader, but they always seem true to life.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about mental illness and how former patients are treated by the community. How are the mentally ill generally portrayed by the media? This fictionalized memoir is set in the early 1950s; families can discuss how treatment has changed over the past half-century. The author's end note addresses this, noting the controversy over treating schizophrenia with medication versus therapy.