Esther and Jacob Blau drive their 16-year-old daughter Deborah to a mental hospital for treatment after a failed suicide attempt. Deborah, suffering from schizophrenia, retreats into a world of her own making, the Kingdom of Yr, when the real world proves too frightening and confusing. Deborah is pleased to see that there are bars on the hospital's windows, but her parents cringe when they hear a high scream inside.
Jacob and Esther decide to tell Deborah's younger sister Suzy and Esther's parents that Deborah is at a convalescent school. Meanwhile, Dr. Fried contemplates taking on Deborah's case despite her busy schedule. She loves working with patients because they can examine sanity in a way that sane people cannot. As she muses that the world outside is often sicker than the world inside a mental hospital, she recalls treating a patient named Tilda in Nazi Germany.
In Yr, Deborah named herself Januce. She accidentally wrote this name on one of her school papers, a grave mistake because it revealed a clue of Yr's existence in the Earth world. Afterward, Yr created the Censor to guard its secrets from Earth. During her first session, Deborah accuses Dr. Fried of wishing to make her "friendly and sweet and agreeable and happy" with telling lies. Dr. Fried explains that she does not think that Deborah's complaints of illness are lies. She believes that Deborah is indeed sick, but not physically. She promises that hard work and good treatment can make her well.
Esther and Jacob feel as if they failed their daughter in some way. When Esther writes to request a visit, Deborah tells Fried that she will see her mother, but not her father because she fears that he might take her from the hospital out of misguided pity and love. Jacob is hurt and angry to learn of Deborah's refusal to see him. Suzy, although she has recently come into her own, must still rearrange her social life around the whims of Deborah's illness.
Esther tells Dr. Fried about her family history before visiting Deborah. Her father was a Latvian immigrant with a clubfoot. His anger and resentment drove him to seek an education and build a fortune in the United States. He purchased a home in a rich neighborhood where he hoped that his children would gain admittance to the American elite. However, his neighbors were rabidly anti-Semitic, so they never accepted his family. Esther's parents disapproved of Jacob, but when Deborah was born blond and fair, the family rejoiced at its good luck. Although Jacob struggled to make a living as an accountant during the Depression, Esther's parents lavished expensive clothing, nannies, and toys on Deborah. Esther and Jacob were forced to move in with Esther's parents, much to Jacob's shame and unhappiness.
When Deborah was 5, she suffered from incontinence that no physical punishment could correct. It was later discovered that a tumor was the cause, not laziness. A renowned specialist performed a successful surgery, but Deborah suffered excruciating pain for some time afterwards. After the stillbirth of twin boys, Esther became pregnant with Suzy, but she tried to maintain a smooth, calm face for Deborah. Jacob obtained a lucrative account and bought a house of his own, but he later discovered that the account was based on a vast chain of fraud after a year. They sold the house, and Esther's parents gave them their house. Meanwhile Deborah attended a summer camp for three years before her parents learned that it was rabidly anti-Semitic. The Second World War brought financial difficulties, so Jacob and Esther were forced to sell her parent's house and move into an apartment. Deborah became passionately interested in art, so the family assumed that her sensitivity and frequent insomnia were only the signs of an artist's temperament. Soon thereafter, Deborah attempted suicide.