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Go Ask Alice is a controversial 1971 book about the life of a troubled teenage girl. The book purports to be the actual diary of an anonymous teenage girl who died of a drug overdose in the late 1960s and is therefore presented as a testimony against drug use. Alice is not the protagonist's name; the actual diarist's name is never given in the book. A girl named Alice is mentioned briefly in one entry during the diarist's stay in Coos Bay,Oregonmarker; she is a fellow addict the diarist meets on the street. Despite this, some commentators refer to the diarist as "Alice" in error or for the sake of convenience.

The story caused a sensation when published and remains in print as of 2009. Revelations about the book's origin have caused much doubt as to its authenticity and factual accounts, and the publishers have listed it as a work of fiction since at least the mid-late 1980s. Although it is still published under the byline "Anonymous," press interviews and copyright records suggest that it is largely or wholly the work of its purported editor, Beatrice Sparks. Some of the days and dates referenced in the book put the timeline from 1968 until 1970.

The title is from the lyrics to the Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit". Grace Slick wrote the song based on perceived drug references in the classic novel Alice In Wonderland. (On July 14 [page 36 of the 2006 edition], the writer says she "feel[s] like Alice in Wonderland" and "maybe Lewis G. Caroll was on drugs too.")

The book was made into an ABC Movie of the Week in 1973.

Plot summary

An unnamed fifteen-year-old begins writing a diary. With a sensitive, observant style, she records her adolescent woes: she worries about what her crush Roger thinks of her; she loathes her weight gain; she fears her budding sexuality; she is uncomfortable at school; she has difficulty relating to her parents. Her father, a college professor, accepts a teaching position at a different college and the family will move at the start of the new year, which cheers her up.

The move is difficult. While the rest of her family adjusts to the new town, the diarist feels like an outcast at school. Soon she meets Beth, a Jewish neighbor, and the two become fast friends. Beth leaves for summer camp and the diarist goes to stay with her grandparents who live in the town where the family previously lived. She is bored, but reunites with an old school acquaintance, Jill. Jill is impressed by the diarist's move to a larger town, and soon invites her to a party. At the party, the diarist unwittingly ingests LSD and experiences a fantastic drug trip. Though curious, she vows not to do drugs again.

The diarist happily experiments with more drugs and loses her virginity while on acid. Roger and his parents show up unexpectedly to visit her grandfather, who has had a small heart attack. She is enthralled with Roger but feels guilty about her drug use and loss of virginity. She doesn't know to whom she can talk about drugs. She is worried that she may be pregnant. She returns home and her family accepts her warmly. Unable to sleep, she receives powerful tranquilizers from her doctor. Beth returns from camp, but the diarist now believes that Beth has changed and they abruptly lose touch. In a boutique the diarist meets Chris, a hip girl. The diarist's parents worry about their daughter's "hippie" appearance.

The diarist and Chris are both dissatisfied with the establishment and their own families. The diarist gets a job working with Chris, and the two become best friends. At school, they use drugs and are popular. Chris's friend Richie, a college boy, turns the diarist on to marijuana. To make more money for drugs, she and Chris sell drugs and do whatever they can to help Richie and Ted (Chris's boyfriend and Richie's roommate). The diarist and Chris discover Richie and Ted having sex with each other. The diarist turns Richie in to the police, vows to stay clean with Chris, and they flee to San Francisco. They move into a cramped apartment. Chris secures a job in a boutique with a glamorous older woman, Sheila, and the diarist gets one with a custom jeweler. Sheila invites the girls to a party at her house.

At Sheila's swanky party, the girls use drugs again. They continue to party with Sheila until one night, when trying heroin, the diarist realizes that Sheila and her boyfriend have been raping and brutalizing them. The girls kick their drug lifestyle. They find a new apartment in Berkeley and open a jewelry shop there, which turns into a hangout for the neighborhood kids. The diarist misses her family. She returns home for Christmas, and the holiday spirit and family camaraderie revive her. She begins school and resists drug advances from old friends, though some are aggressive. Chris smokes marijuana with her, and the diarist goes back on drugs. The police raid Chris's house while she and the diarist use drugs. The girls are put on probation, and the diarist will be sent to a psychiatrist.

The diarist continues to do drugs without her family's knowledge. She hitchhikes to Denver (recording her diary entries on scraps of paper without dates). She travels to Oregon with other drug users but soon loses them. A janitor directs her to a mission similar to the Salvation Army. The diarist is cleaned up and meets a young sufferer of lifelong sexual abuse, Doris, who lets her stay at her apartment. They get sick from malnourishment and hitchhike to Southern California, where the diarist takes more drugs, even prostituting herself for them. The diarist talks with a priest about teen runaways, and he calls her parents. They want her to come home. In the city, the diarist meets several other runaways and talks to them about why they left home. She imagines she may go into child guidance or psychology some day to help out others, and she vows to quit drugs.

The diarist comes home and is excited to renew her life with her family. The diarist loses consciousness and drifts off into a reverie that she thinks is either a flashback or a schizophrenic episode. Otherwise, the diarist is happy with her family and with herself, except for her social isolation: she can't hang out with drug users, and "straight" kids don't want her around. The diarist's grandfather dies in a coma from a stroke. She agonizes over the thought of worms and maggots eating his dead body underground. Her relationship with her father matures. Someone plants a joint in the diarist's purse, and she leaves school to go to his office. He consoles her, and gets her permission to study at the university library.

The diarist meets a freshman at the university library, Joel; his father is dead, his mother is a factory worker, and he works as a janitor to pay for school. He and the diarist get to know each other better, as does her family. She fantasizes about marrying him. Pressure to use drugs at school intensifies, as the kids harass the diarist and her family. The diarist's grandmother dies. After the funeral, Joel has a long talk with her about death that makes her feel better, and they kiss. She opens up to Joel about some of her past, and he is kind and supportive.

The diarist writes in her undated diary from a hospital. She is unsure how she has ended up here and can only think of the worms she thinks are eating her alive. She has chewed her fingers to the bone, and clawed up her face and body. Her father says that someone dosed with LSD the chocolate-covered peanuts the diarist was eating while she was baby-sitting. The diarist finds out she is being sent to an insane asylum. Her father tells her that when her case was brought before a juvenile court and that Jan and another girl testified that The diarist had still been on drugs and was selling them. The diarist registers at the State Mental Hospital. She is frightened by the ugly building and by the inmates. She meets a little thirteen-year-old girl, Babbie, a former prostitute and drug user with a history of sexual abuse.

Life in the asylum drains the diarist. A visit from her parents brings a warm letter from Joel. Her father reports that Jan has retracted her statement, and they're trying to get the other girl to do the same to free the diarist. The diarist returns home and is happy to be with her family. The family takes a vacation together, and when they return, The diarist is invited swimming by Fawn, a "straight" kid. She has a fun time with Fawn's friends and hopes that they haven't heard stories about her. Joel makes a surprise visit and gives her a friendship ring, which she vows to wear her whole life. She is worried about starting school again but feels stronger with the support of her new friends and Joel. She comments that she no longer needs a diary, for she now has people in her life with whom she can communicate.

In the epilogue, we are told that the diarist died three weeks later of an overdose—whether it was premeditated or accidental remains unclear—and that she was one of thousands of drug deaths that year.

Authorship

Go Ask Alice was originally promoted as nonfiction and was published under the byline "Anonymous." However, not long after its publication, Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist and Mormon youth counselor, began making media appearances presenting herself as the book's editor.

Searches at the U.S. Copyright Office show that Sparks is the sole copyright holder for "Go Ask Alice." Furthermore, she is listed on the copyright record as the book's author — not as the editor, compiler, or executor, which would be more usual for someone publishing the diary of a deceased person. (According to the book itself, the sole copyright is owned by Prentice-Hall.)

In an October 1979 interview with Alleen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Sparks claimed that Go Ask Alice had been based on the diary of one of her patients, but that she had added various fictional incidents based on her experiences working with other troubled teens. She said the real "Alice" had not died of a drug overdose, but in a way that could have been either an accident or suicide. She also stated that she could not produce the original diary, because she had destroyed part of it after transcribing it and the rest was locked away in the publisher's vault.

Sparks' second "diary" project, Jay's Journal, gave rise to a controversy that cast further doubt on Go Ask Alice's veracity. Jay's Journal was allegedly the diary of a boy who committed suicide after becoming involved with the occult. Again, Sparks claimed to have based it on the diary of a patient. However, the family of the boy in question, Alden Barrett, disowned the book. They claimed that Sparks had used only a handful of the actual diary entries, and had invented the great majority of the book, including the entire occult angle. This led many to speculate that "Alice's" diary—if indeed it existed—had received similar treatment. No one claiming to have known the real "Alice" has ever come forward.

Sparks has gone on to produce many other alleged diaries dealing with various problems faced by teenagers. These include Treacherous Love: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager, Almost Lost: The True Story of an Anonymous Teenager's Life on the Streets, Annie's Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, a Pregnant Teenager and It Happened to Nancy: By an Anonymous Teenager. Although billed as "real diaries," these do not appear to have been received by readers or reviewers as anything other than fiction.

There have recently been hints that at least one other author was involved in the creation of Go Ask Alice. In an essay called "Just Say Uh-Oh", published in the New York Times Book Review on November 5 1998, Mark Oppenheimer identified Linda Glovach, an author of young-adult novels, as "one of the 'preparers' -- let's call them forgers -- of Go Ask Alice", although he did not give his source for this claim. Amazon.com's listing for Glovach's novel Beauty Queen also states that Glovach is "a co-author" of Alice.

In an article on the Urban Legends Reference Pages (snopes.com), urban folklore expert Barbara Mikkelson points out that even before the revelations about Go Ask Alice's authorship, there was ample internal evidence that the book was not an actual diary. The lengthy, detailed passages about the harmful effects of illicit drugs and the relatively small amount of space dedicated to relationships and social gossip seem uncharacteristic of a teenaged girl’s diary. Furthermore, the book uses many long words, such as gregarious and impregnable, which are uncommon in casual pieces of writing, especially those of teenagers.

Censorship controversies

Because Go Ask Alice includes profanity as well as relatively explicit references to runaways, drugs, sex, and rape, conservative parents and activists have sought to remove it from school libraries. Bans started in the 1970s: Kalamazoo, Michiganmarker in 1974, Saginaw, Michiganmarker in 1975, and Eagle Pass, Texasmarker and Trenton, New Jerseymarker in 1977 through removal from local libraries. Other libraries in New Yorkmarker (1975), Ogden, Utahmarker (1979), and Floridamarker (1982) required parental permission for a student to check out the book. Additional bans occurred in 1983 in Minnesotamarker and Coloradomarker, 1984 in Mississippimarker, and 1986 in Georgiamarker and Michiganmarker. Also, in 1993 in New Jerseymarker and West Virginiamarker, 1994 in Massachusettsmarker, 1998 in Rhode Islandmarker, 2003 in Mainemarker, and in Feb 2007 Berkley County School District in South Carolinamarker. The American Library Association listed Go Ask Alice as number 23 on its list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. The book was number 8 on the most challenged list in 2001 and up to number 6 in 2003. The dispute over the book's authorship does not seem to have played any role in these censorship battles.

References

  1. U.S. Copyright Office - Search Copyright Records
  2. "Curiouser and Curiouser": Fact, Fiction, and the Anonymous Author of Go Ask Alice
  3. Just Say 'Uh-Oh'
  4. Barbara Mikkelson, 'Go Ask Alice', Urban Legends Reference Pages, July 7, 2001.
  5. ALA | 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000


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