This book is the diary of a fifteen year old, told as journal entries. When her family moves to a new city, she finds that she is an outcast and she has a hard time making friends. She spends the summer with her grandparents and while there she attends a party and accidentally consumes a drink that has been laced with LSD. She enjoys the experience, but vows never to do drugs again. She returns home and finds herself doing drugs again. She is finally part of a group that accepts her. She finds herself trying quit numerous times. Each time she only successful for a short time. She runs away twice and each time is welcomed back to her family. She eventually winds up in a psychiatric hospital and vows to quit for good. Three weeks after she finally quits, she dies from an overdose. This is a very sad story which shows the brutal effects of teenage drug use.
(2007). Go ask alice. New York: Simon Pulse.
I can understand why some parents may want to limit their child's exposure to this book; however, it is such a realistic depiction of the unintentional, downward spiral of drug abuse. Having a teenage daughter, this book was very painful to read. As parents, we have no idea about the emotional demons our children face. Finding a niche is crucial; however, if the niche is wrong for the child, we see in this novel the disastrous results. Personally, I think that this would be an excellent novel for a book club discussion. If the realism keeps one child away from recreational drug use, it will be worth it!
From Horn Book Magazine:
Published in 1971 by Prentice-Hall, Go Ask Alice spread like wildfire among teen readers as soon as it appeared as an Avon paperback-"more than four million copies sold," touts the current Aladdin paper edition. Conjuring all the pulsating power of the Jefferson Airplane rock song from which it borrowed its name, Go Ask Alice gave an insider's look at the simultaneously glamorous and frightening world of drugs. As a curious pre-teen, I lapped up the "real diary" of this anonymous fifteen-year-old, eager to learn of the thrill and lure of those forbidden substances from the smugly satisfying position of not sharing Alice's fate (and of suddenly "getting" what Grace Slick was singing about).
My motives were not as lofty as those of the critics who strongly recommended the book when it first appeared. Knowing that many parents (and teachers and librarians) would be uncomfortable with the subject matter-and the vulgar language-of the book, the Christian Science Monitor implored, "Precisely because of this reluctance to expose one's children to such material. . . the book must be read." From Library Journal: "This diary depicts all the confusion, loneliness and rebellion associated with adolescence.... Unlike other 'true-to-life' stories, this is true (it's based on an actual diary). An important book, this deserves as wide a readership as libraries can give it." And Publishers Weekly recommended the book as an "eloquent look at what it must be like to be in the vortex" of drug use. However, PW was, it seems, the only source at the time to question the book's authenticity: "Maybe we're all too cynical on that subject these days, but it does seem awfully well written, and in any case brilliantly edited."
But most readers accepted the book for what it claims to be-a real diary by an anonymous teen. The question of authenticity was raised again only when Alleen Pace Nilsen interviewed Beatrice Sparks for School Library Journal in October 1979, after seeing Sparks listed on the cover of a new book as "the author who brought you Go Ask Alice." Nilsen's article, "The House That Alice Built," depicts Sparks in a less than flattering light as a purported youth counselor with sketchy qualifications. Nilsen relates Sparks's claim that she compiled the book from diaries given her by a young girl she befriended but added other incidents and ideas from similar cases. Nilsen concludes, "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." (In a letter to SLJ Sparks later defended not only the book's credentials and her own but the decor of her house, which also came under attack in the article.)
Whatever the proportions of their contributions, Sparks and her Alice together created a phenomenal success. What accounts for it? Timing, for one thing. Published right at the height of the psychedelic era and the dawning awareness that experimenting with drugs might have a downside, Go Ask Alice provided the perfect combination of voyeuristic appeal and high-mindedness: the book got credit for opening important lines of communication about the dangers of drug use. Though we don't know precisely to what extent Sparks shaped or added to the diary, she seems to know when to let Alice's own words and experiences speak for themselves-and thus speak directly to teen readers as she relates her feelings about friends, boyfriends, and the thrill and "beauty" of her first encounters with drugs. Yet somehow, either by conscious design or happenstance, each of Alice's drug-influenced adventures ends unhappily, whereupon Alice gives discourse to the evils of drugs and renews her promises to "rectify [her] life." This is all quite feasible as a true picture of the up-and-down cycle of addiction, and perhaps Sparks is simply fortunate that Alice makes the case against drug use so eloquently for her. However, Sparks does admit in Nilsen's article to altering the ending of the book: Alice did not die of an actual overdose as it says in the epilogue, "but in a way that could have been either an accident or a suicide. . . probably influenced by her being on drugs." Apparently the "probable influence" was not sufficient to assure the moral of the story as Sparks intended: Alice took drugs; Alice died from drugs.
Clearly, many readers were taken with the story of the sweet, confused girl lured into the sordid world that would eventually take her life, and critics and educators were delighted with the opportunity to show the dangers of drugs to kids in a way accessible to them-"See, don't take my word for it. Just Go Ask Alice." But much of the book's merit was derived from its status as a "real diary," so if it's not all Alice talking, does it deserve to be judged differently? As Nilsen pointed out, the book was "more or less exempt from the regular kind of literary criticism since it was supposedly the diary of a deceased young girl." If Sparks did in fact serve as an author who crafted and shaped her raw material, and we apply some literary standards accordingly, how will Alice stand up today?
Rereading the book in the context of current young adult literature, I was amazed by how unenthralling I found it. Poor Alice sounds ridiculously melodramatic and immature compared to today's more worldly teens. Upon learning of her family's impending move, she writes, "Dear precious Diary, I am baptizing you with my tears. I know we have to leave and that one day I will even have to leave my father and mother's home...." Most fifteen-year-olds I know are slightly more excited about the prospect of eventually getting some space away from mom and dad. Yet we must believe in Alice's innocence if we are to believe that she has no idea what's happening to her when she is slipped some LSD at a party twenty pages later. Somewhat harder to swallow than the acid-laced Coke are the moral platitudes slipped in throughout the diary. Alice writes of her friends, "Sometimes I think we're all trying to be shadows of each other.... Kids are like robots, off an assembly line." Above all, we are to believe that Alice is not a bad girl, but a good girl who loves God and her family and who happens to get mixed up in some very bad things.
Alice's childish and often vacuous ramblings may be plausible as the actual diary entries of a searching, as-yet-undefined teenager, and granted, I related to them more readily at age twelve than I can as an adult reader. Totally implausible, however, are the diary entries of Sparks's latest book, Annie's Baby, featuring a voice that sounds remarkably similar to Alice's (with the exception of a few contemporary words such as rad tossed in and a plethora of capital letters and "soooooo"s to fill up the pages). The fourth in an apparent series of "anonymous true stories," following Almost Lost (about life on the streets) and It Happened to Nancy (about AIDS), Annie's Baby is about a fourteen-year-old who becomes pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. Even if we were to believe in this new incarnation of Alice (and while I assume that Sparks is attempting to simulate the "real" teenage voice of her greatest publishing success, the similarities do again raise the question of how much of the original Alice was Sparks's fabrication), the book's overt didacticism precludes any aesthetic claims. Here Sparks is not satisfied with the lessons given by Annie herself"[Mom] and Dad fought from as long back as I can remember . . . That's probably what makes me so insecure"-or even by the way that this particular diary actually responds to Annie with its own advice, a(overscored) la Jiminy Cricket: "I'm going to think only of what Danny wants us to do . . . and besides, 'everyone is doing it.' [New paragraph] 'Everyone is not doing it!"' In an amazing coincidence, Annie turns out to be distantly related to "Dr. B." (Sparks) and goes to visit for a therapeutic weekend. The tapes of their discussions as well as a quiz on "What Is Love?" are handily transcribed in Annie's diary. The transcripts do nothing to enliven Annie's tedious tale of her abusive relationship, pregnancy, and young motherhood. The book is appended with further information about pregnancy, STDs, abuse, and "out-of-wedlock births."
None of Sparks's more recent message-laden books will even approach the phenomenal popularity of Go Ask Alice. Their blatant fictionalizing assures that they will not be accepted as the sensational, true document that Alice was, while their heavyhanded proselytizing prevents them from being remotely successful as works of literature. And again, the timing of Alice's release was exceptionally opportune, addressing breakthrough subject matter in young adult books at a time when we were ready to hear about it. With so many taboos having since been broken in young adult literature, is it possible for any book to have this kind of impact today?
Melvin Burgess's Smack was published to great acclaim in England (as Junk) in 1996, winning both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize for Fiction. Published here this year by Henry Holt, it continues to be touted as an important and realistic portrayal of teenage drug use. Twenty-seven years after Go Ask Alice-so what's new? As the straightforward title indicates, Smack is about heroin use, whereas Go Ask Alice is about using everything but heroin. The bigger difference is that Smack is a novel, complete with characters, setting, and plot. On its own terms, it can be judged fairly and squarely as a literary work. But has it been? As with Go Ask Alice, many critics seem most taken with the realism of the subject matter. "Based on actual people and incidents, this harrowing tale is as compellingly real as it is tragic" [Kirkus, 3/ 15/98]. Yet the author himself tells us in his opening note that some of the characters are "seeded from real people," but "the book isn't fact; it isn't even faction." He doesn't intend to present the book as a real account, just as a realistic depiction of teenage lives-on-the-edge. Burgess creates a palpable 1980s punk scene in Bristol, where the characters "squat" abandoned houses. The setting is much more tangible than that of Alice, which seems to float from suburb to city without much effect. The characters are more interesting, too. Gemma, Alice's counterpart, is no innocent waif but a thrill-seeker who leaves home and eventually tries heroin largely because she "was the most bored person she knew." The story is told by Gemma and nine other characters whose lives intersect, including her sweet boyfriend, Tar, who runs away to escape the abuse at home and gets lured into heroin use mainly to please Gemma. Yet each of Burgess's first-person narratives achieves a more distinct voice and personality than Alice manages to convey throughout her entire story. Their relationships with their families are also much more clearly drawn. Tar anguishes between guilty love and hate for his manipulative, alcoholic mother. Gemma feels stifled by her strait-laced parents, yet their suffering from her disappearance is sympathetically portrayed. By contrast, Alice's shapeless parents seem to hover ineffectually in the background, waiting for her next return home.
However, as Jennifer Brabander wrote in her May/June 1998 Horn Book review, "Establishing the 1980s Bristol setting. . . takes precedence over the story for too long and slows the book's pace considerably." Many readers may not hang in long enough to get to the "action" of the story: the decline into heroin addiction and the endless denials thereof; the turn to prostitution to support their habit; junkie pregnancies and babies; and the repeated attempts to climb back out of the life. So while Smack is easily a bettercrafted book than Go Ask Alice, its own shortcomings might lead one to ask whether subject matter or literary merit was given greatest consideration when such high praise and prestigious awards were being doled out. And though it may still be more successful by literary standards, it can't compete with Alice as a groundbreaking book on teenage drug use. Probably nothing can. Of course, that won't stop others from trying. Beauty Queen by Linda Glovach, published just this September by HarperCollins, also traces the descent into heroin addiction. "In the spirit of Go Ask Alice. . " reads the jacket copy, and in fact the young woman's gushing journal entries are very reminiscent of Alice's. The book is also more like Alice in that here, too, the action-the heavy drug use and plunge into a sordid life away from home and family-begins right away. The potential glamour of the drug is also conveyed here much more than in Smack, as Sam recounts her new life as a topless dancer, raking in big bucks while regular shots of heroin keep her feeling happy and beautiful. In fact, life seems pretty terrific to Sam-until her seedy cop boyfriend ditches her, driving her to the overdose that causes her inevitable death. The fast plot, earnest voice, and sexy cover will surely win young readers.
But Alice's era is over. Go Ask Alice was a phenomenon of its time that cannot be repeated, by Sparks or anyone else. Education and discussion about drugs is part of every school child's experience, and there is probably no remaining subject under such a delightfully enticing taboo. The book's immense popularity spills over to today's readers in some part due to Alice's universal adolescent angst, and in large part due to the power of legend and legacy-of the sixties' drug culture, of teens of every generation, and of Alice herself and her tragic tale.
Adams, L. (1998). A second look: Go ask alice. The Horn Book Magazine, 74(5), 587-592. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/199313809?accountid=7113
From Common Sense Media:
What parents need to know