Go Ask Alice

From Academic Kids

Go Ask Alice, an account of drug abuse that has been controversial on several levels, is considered a classic of American young adult literature. First published by HarperCollins in 1971, the book purports to be the actual diary of an anonymous teenage girl who died of a drug overdose in the late 1960s. The book is presented as a cautionary tale against drug use. Marketed to other teen girls, it caused a sensation when published and remains in print more than 30 years later. However, revelations about the book's origin have caused much doubt as to its authenticity, and the publishers have listed it as a work of fiction since at least the mid-1980s.

The title is from the Jefferson Airplane song, "White Rabbit", which includes the lyrics, "Go ask Alice/When she's ten feet tall". Grace Slick wrote the song after noticing possible drug references in Alice In Wonderland. The book's protagonist is never named, but reviewers generally refer to her as 'Alice' for the sake of convenience.


At the beginning of the book, 'Alice' is a typical, insecure middle-class teenager, preoccupied with boys, diets and popularity. All this changes when she attends a party with new friends and is slipped Coca-Cola spiked with LSD. After this first unwitting experience, she seeks out drugs deliberately, and rapidly proceeds from marijuana and amphetamines to heroin and cocaine. Within a few months, she has run away from home and is living on the streets as a prostitute. She describes all her experiences faithfully; indeed, the more extreme the supposed diarist's addiction gets, the more sophisticated and descriptive her writing becomes.

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital, 'Alice' comes off drugs and moves back home, though she still faces pressure from her drug-using former friends. At the end of the book, the teenager is finally happy and over her drug addiction. She decides to stop keeping a diary. However, an editorial note tells us that three weeks after the last entry, she was found dead from an overdose.


Go Ask Alice was originally promoted as nonfiction, and was (and is) published under the byline 'Anonymous.' However, clues to its true origin began to surface in 1979 with the publication of another alleged teen diary, Jay's Journal. In the promotional material for Jay's Journal, the book's 'editor,' Beatrice Sparks, was billed as the editor of Go Ask Alice.

In an October 1979 interview with Aileen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Sparks, a psychologist and Mormon youth counsellor, 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' new 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. [1] (http://www.shutitdown.net/text/askalice.html) 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. [2] (http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/askalice.asp)

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 5 November 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. [3] (http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/15/reviews/981115.15oppenht.html) Amazon.com's listing for Glovach's novel "Beauty Queen" also states that Glovach is 'a co-author' of "Alice." [4] (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/006205161X/ref=pd_sxp_f/102-3805762-2601733?v=glance&s=books).

Censorship controversies

Because Go Ask Alice includes relatively explicit references to drugs and sex, parents and conservative activists have often sought to remove it from school libraries. The American Library Association listed Go Ask Alice as number 23 on its list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. [5] (http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwlinks/100mostfrequently.htm) The dispute over the book's authorship does not seem to have played any role in these censorship battles.


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