Go Ask Alice
|Published||1971 (Prentice Hall)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ7 .G534|
Go Ask Alice is a 1971 novel about the life of a troubled teenage girl. It is written by Beatrice Sparks in the form of the diary of an anonymous teenage girl who becomes addicted to drugs. The diarist's name is never given in the book. The novel's title was taken from a line in the 1967 Grace Slick-penned Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit" ("go ask Alice/when she's ten feet tall"), which is itself a reference to a scene in Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures In Wonderland where Alice eats one side of a mushroom that makes her grow large. Go Ask Alice is presented as an anti-drug testimonial.
Claimed to be taken from an actual diary, the story caused a sensation when published, and remained in print as of 2014. Revelations about the book's origin cast doubt on 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", 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.
An unnamed 15-year old begins keeping a diary. With a sensitive, observant style, she records her thoughts and concerns about issues such as crushes, weight loss, sexuality, social acceptance, and difficulty relating to her parents. She eventually realizes that she has a serious problem with sex and drugs.
The book begins when the diarist's father, a college professor, accepts a teaching position at a new college. The diarist is at first optimistic about the move. After the move the diarist feels like an outcast at the new school, with no friends. She then meets Beth and they become best friends. When Beth leaves for summer camp the diarist returns to her hometown to stay with her grandparents. She reunites with an old school acquaintance, Jill. Jill is impressed by the diarist's move to a larger town, and invites her to a party. At the party, glasses of soda—some of which are laced with LSD—are served. The diarist unwittingly ingests LSD and has an intense and pleasurable trip.
Over the following days the diarist continues friendships with the people from the party and willingly uses more drugs. She loses her virginity while on LSD. She becomes worried she may be pregnant, and her grandfather has a small heart attack. These events and the tremendous amount of guilt she feels begin to overwhelm her. She begins to take sleeping pills stolen from her grandparents. On returning home she receives sleeping pills from her doctor. When those are not enough she demands powerful tranquilizers from her doctor. The friendship with Beth ends as both girls have moved in new directions.
The diarist meets a hip girl, Chris, while shopping at a local boutique. The diarist and Chris become fast friends, using drugs frequently. They date college boys Richie and Ted, who deal drugs. They begin selling drugs for the boyfriends, passing back all the money made. One day they find the boys stoned and having sex. Realizing Richie and Ted were using them to make money, the girls turn them in to the police and flee to San Francisco. They vow to stay away from drugs. Chris secures a job in a boutique with a glamorous older woman, Sheila. The diarist gets a job with a custom jeweler whom she sees as a father figure.
Sheila invites the girls to lavish parties where they resume taking drugs. One night Sheila and her new boyfriend introduce the girls to heroin and rape them while they are stoned. The diarist and Chris, traumatized, move to Berkeley where they open a jewelry shop. It is a small success, but the diarist misses her family. Tired of the shop, the girls return home for a happy Christmas.
Returning home the diarist encounters social pressure and hostility from her former friends from the drug scene. She and her family are threatened and shunned at times. Chris and the diarist try to stay away from drugs but their resolve lapses. The diarist gets high one night and runs away. She drifts through homelessness, prostitution, hitchhiking, and homeless shelters, before a priest reunites her with her family. She returns home, but encounters continued hostility from her former friends. They eventually drug the diarist against her will; she has a bad trip and is sent to an insane asylum. There she bonds with a younger girl named Babbie. Chris and her family move to a new town.
Released from the asylum the diarist returns home and finally is free of drugs. She becomes romantically involved with a student from her father's college, Joel. Relationships with her family are improving, as are friendships with some new kids in town. She is worried about starting school again, but feels stronger with the support of her new friends and Joel. In an optimistic mood the diarist decides she no longer needs a diary; now she can communicate with her family and friends.
The epilogue states that the subject of the book died three weeks after the final entry. The diarist was found dead in her home by her parents, either by an accidental or premeditated overdose.
The diarist and her family reside in two different towns. The only description provided is that they are college towns.
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, 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, essay by Alleen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Nilsen surmised that Sparks partially based Go Ask Alice on the diary of one of her patients, but that she had added various fictional incidents. Sparks told Nilsen 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. Nilsen wrote, "The question of how much of Go Ask Alice was written by the real Alice and how much by Beatrice Sparks can only be conjectured."
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 went on to produce several 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 more recently been hints that at least one other author was involved in the creation of Go Ask Alice. In an essay entitled "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 teenage girl’s diary. In addition, the article mentions the disclaimer in the book's copyright notice page, which states: "This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."
The diarist's name is never revealed in the book. A girl named Alice is mentioned briefly in one entry during the diarist's stay in Coos Bay, Oregon; she is an addict whom the diarist briefly meets on the street. However, due to a quote from a young boy, ("Daddy can't come, he's humping Carla.") it is possible that the diarist's name is Carla. Commentators often refer to the diarist as "Alice" in error, or for the sake of convenience. In the ABC Movie of the Week film version of Go Ask Alice, broadcast 24 January 1973, the protagonist played by Jamie Smith-Jackson is named Alice.
Because Go Ask Alice includes profanity as well as relatively explicit references to runaways, drugs, sex, and rape, parents and activists have sought to remove it from school libraries. Bans started in the 1970s: Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1974, Saginaw, Michigan in 1975, and Eagle Pass, Texas and Trenton, New Jersey in 1976 through removal from local libraries. Other libraries in New York (1975), Ogden, Utah (1979), and Florida (1982) required parental permission for a student to check out the book. Additional bans occurred in 1983 in Minnesota and Colorado, 1984 in Mississippi, and 1986 in Georgia and Michigan. Also, in 1993 in New Jersey and West Virginia, 1994 in Massachusetts, 1998 in Rhode Island, 2003 in Maine, and in Feb 2007 Berkeley County School District in South Carolina. The American Library Association listed Go Ask Alice as number 25 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.
In other media
Stand-up comedian Paul F. Tompkins' 2009 comedy album Freak Wharf has a track entitled "Go Ask Alice" in which he derides the book as "the phoniest of balonies" and suggests it was authored by the writing staff of Dragnet. The album title itself is drawn from a passage in the book in which the narrator refers to an insane asylum as a "freak wharf."
- Sparks is listed as the author of the book by the U.S. Copyright Office.needs citation
- U.S. Copyright Office – Search Copyright Records
- Nilsen, Alleen Pace. "The House That Alice Built" School Library Journal (October, 1979).
- Lina Goldberg, "Curiouser and Curiouser": Fact, Fiction, and the Anonymous Author of Go Ask Alice
- Just Say 'Uh-Oh'
- Barbara Mikkelson, 'Go Ask Alice', Urban Legends Reference Pages, July 7, 2001.
- Ben Yagoda, Memoir: A History. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.
- ALA | 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000