Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Go Ask Alice — If You Can Find Her

Recently, I was in a used bookstore looking for a copy of The Great Gatsby for my teenage daughter's honors English class, preferably one without Leonardo DiCaprio's head on it. (No luck, by the way.) I passed a table marked "Summer Reading Lists" and there I saw a very familiar paperback book.

Go Ask Alice, the real diary of a teen drug user! O!M!G! My girlfriends and I devoured that book back in high school. We read it over and over and over. We hung on every word. Through the anonymous "Alice," we experienced a subculture of illicit activities that none of us were brave enough (or stupid enough) to try in real life.

I'm always looking for books to share with my daughter and this seemed like one she needed to know about. Of course, I would read it first — just to make sure I was ready for any questions she might have. Or so I told myself. In reality, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth back into it. And, it was only $1.99! (How much do we love used bookstores? That would be a lot.) Within moments, it was mine.

As an aside, I also bought a used copy ($2.39!) of Carrie Fisher's sequel to Postcards from the Edge, her semiautobiographical novel The Best Awful. If there was a theme to my little shopping spree, I guess it was Drug Abuse Lit 101. But, I digress.

That afternoon, I happily finished the book on my nightstand (Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, Part II, which didn't have any teen junkies in it, but did have quite a bit of snuff pinching). I settled in for an acid trip down memory lane, convinced I would finish Go Ask Alice in a single sitting. 

Mais non, mes amis! It was tough to get through it. Because despite my earlier infatuation, the truth is ... Go Ask Alice is awful.

I don't mean that it's awfully sad or awfully depressing or awfully tragic (all of which I would have confidently asserted when I was my daughter's age). I mean, the book is simply awful. How I (and apparently five million other readers) ever thought this was an actual diary from an actual teenager is beyond me. Of course, the book cover tells us so:

"The harrowing true story of a teenager's descent into the seductive world of drugs. A diary so honest you may think you know Alice — or someone like her. Read her diary. Enter her world. You'll never be able to forget Alice."

If nothing else, I can vouch for that last bit. Anyway, upon a shall-we-say more mature reading, Go Ask Alice doesn't ring true. Not at all.

Yes, as promised, "Alice" shares her deepest darkest secrets. (Isn't that part of the thrill of reading someone's diary?) Some of the issues are drawn from actual teen life: she worries about her weight, she obsesses about a boy, she wishes she could be more popular. But, there's simply no way a fifteen-year-old wrote this:

I just bought the most wonderful little single pearl pin for Mother's Christmas present. It cost me nine dollars and fifty cents, but it's worth it. It's a cultured pearl which means it's real and it looks like my Mom. Soft and shiny, but sturdy and dependable underneath so it won't dribble all over the place. Oh I hope she likes it! I want so very much for her to like it and to like me!

Say, what?

The writing gets even more flowery (and less plausible) when "Alice" describes her first LSD trip:

I looked at a magazine on the table, and I could see it in 100 dimensions. It was so beautiful I could not stand the sight of it and closed my eyes. Immediately I was floating into another sphere, another world, another state. Things rushed away from me and at me, taking my breath away like a drop in a fast elevator. I couldn't tell what was real and what was unreal. Was I the table or the book or the music, or was I part of all of them, but it didn't really matter, for whatever I was, I was wonderful.

Oh my.

Well, suffice it to say, I was a little more gullible thirty-five years ago. Or, maybe I just assumed that a real, published book that claimed to be a real diary of a real girl who died of a real overdose was ... well ... real.

Kind of the way kids feel about what they find on the Internet today. Speaking of which, it took about twenty seconds to learn that Go Ask Alice was — indeed — a work of fiction. (Gasp!) The author was a woman named Beatrice Sparks who ghost-wrote a number of similar titles: 

Annie's Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, A Pregnant Teenager

Treacherous Love: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager

Almost Lost: The True Story of an Anonymous Teenager's Life on the Streets

Kim: Empty Inside: The Diary of ... you guessed it ... an Anonymous Teenager
Ms. Sparks, who passed away last year, was a therapist and a Mormon youth counselor. And, a very successful, if maybe not so credible anymore, anonymous teenager.

So, this has been an enlightening week. I'm glad that "Alice" was just a fictional girl (she doesn't have a very happy ending in the book, if you remember). Real or not, Go Ask Alice provided my younger self with hours of reading pleasure. I don't think it convinced me not to try hard drugs; I doubt I would have with or without the book (I was rather a goody-goody). But, maybe it did persuade some kids to stay safe. 'Can't really argue with that 

And, I'm still going to share it with my daughter. But, I think I'll wait until she finishes The Great Gatsby.

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