A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, first published in 1964, is a fictionalized memoir of a teen girl's experiences in a mental hospital in the early 1950s. It can be intense and disturbing as 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.
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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, this 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?
Deborah's gradual steps may sometimes frustrate an impatient reader, but they always seem true to life. The power of this book 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. As with 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 connection between patient and therapist, reality and fantasy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mental illness and how former patients are treated by the outside community. How are the mentally ill generally portrayed by the media?
This fictionalized memoir is set in the early 1950s. How has treatment for mental illness changed since then?
What's the difference between a memoir and a fictionalized memoir? Is it just as true if it's fictionalized?
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