The autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, published in 1964 by Joanne Greenberg using the pseudonym Hannah Green, recounts the experiences of a young girl who suffers from a mental illness. The novel draws from the author's own experiences in this story of Deborah Blau who struggles through childhood, fearful and sometimes even terrified by her circumstances. In an attempt to come to grips with a world she has trouble understanding, the protagonist creates an interior world of her own, one that includes various characters and an archaic language. As the young protagonist becomes more deeply entrapped in the world that she has created, the external reality begins to fade away.
The story opens as Deborah's parents are driving her to the mental hospital, where they hope their daughter will be quickly cured. Deborah's illness goes deeper than the family realizes, however, and Deborah ends up spending three years there. Readers observe the protagonist as she spends those three years fighting for her sanity. During that time, Deborah learns to trust her psychiatrist, through whom she re-establishes a healthy connection to the outer world. The title of this novel comes from the belief of the Deborah's psychiatrist that the journey from mental illness to health would not be an easy road to follow.
An immediate national bestseller, the novel was an unusual book for its time, revealing, as R. V. Cassill for the New York Times stated, "the internal warfare in a young psychotic." The book draws readers into the strangeness of Deborah's world and keeps them on edge as they root for the protagonist's success.