by Joanne Greenberg
I read this book at least twice when I was a teen. It\’s been decades. I was curious how similar it might be to Challenger Deep, and yes, it was a very interesting comparison. Both are about a teenager suffering from schizophrenia. Both kids experience a complex, detailed inner world where other personae speak to them. I thought it was also telling that in each case, there was an aspect of the inner world where the sufferer felt they were descending into a great depth- in Challenger Deep, it was the depths of the ocean. In Rose Garden, it was a bottomless pit of hell.
But there the similarities end. This young woman- Deoborah- is sent by her family to a mental hospital where she receives therapy and lives on a ward with other patients. Use of medication is crude and rudimentary- it seems to be limited to sedatives. I have to make myself remember that the book is placed squarely in its time- it was written in the sixties, and the story takes place during the forties. So please note if you read it that people worked with the knowledge they had, at the time. In the book, a lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of therapy- Deobrah\’s therapist spends hours digging through her memories to sift out the cause of her withdrawl from the world, the reason the people in her head censor her actions and punish her, the traumas she may have suffered when very young that marred her psyche. I don\’t think it quite works like that? As far as I can understand, medication treats the condition and therapy helps, but the cause is not a childhood trauma as this story implies.
Regardless, it\’s very well-written and the characters are vivid- not just Deborah, but the other patients she interacts with, the staff at the hospital, her fierce and compassionate therapist. As a younger reader, I was fascinated with and baffled by the demanding, inscrutable \’gods\’ that peopled Deborah\’s inner world- now I found them more easy to see through. I still enjoyed the wordplay, the codes the patients had of communicating unspeakable things, the often-beautiful way Deborah spoke in metaphors (she also had a made-up language for her inner world). I noticed on this read how much more this book delves into what the family went through at home- what to tell relatives, how to deal with their own guilt and worry. It even has a few chapters from the therapist\’s point of view (personal life as well as her work).
And I appreciated that, just like in the more modern book I read, the main character realizes at the end that while there is no permanent cure for their condition, there can be a great alleviation of suffering, and the capability of leading a productive life. Deobrah\’s story felt a bit rushed at the end- while it did address the very different struggles she had to integrate back into the regular world when her stay at the hospital was over, it went through that without much depth, compared to all the pages spent on therapy sessions and conversations with fellow patients.
Still, a good read, if you keep in mind how long ago it was written. At first, the frequency of the author telling stuff irritated me, but I got used to it as a style of the writing and was okay with it later on (something I often can\’t tolerate in more modern books). The voice overall does feel surprisingly relevant and current, in spite of its timeframe.
Note: the edition I read was published under the pen name Hannah Green. The story was based on the author\’s personal experiences (I don\’t know to what degree things had been fictionalized).
Rating: 3/5 318 pages, 1964