I’d heard of this controversial book but somehow never read it before. I found it in a charity shop and thought why not? Although the book is generally considered a work of fiction by youth counsellor Beatrice Sparks, in my copy (Arrow, 1997) the category on the back is ‘Non Fiction/Autobiography’. It also describes the book as a ‘true story’ and the copyright notice is for the original publisher Prentice-Hall, without an author name. Reading the book, it was fairly obvious to me that it was fiction, from the writing style and various aspects which don’t seem credible. However, there are important messages to be taken from the story, whether it is fiction or not.
Narrated by an unnamed 15-year-old girl (nowhere in the book is she called Alice, until the ‘psychologist’s comment’ at the end), the diary follows one or two turbulent years of her short life. She is from a middle-class background and has a loving family, but is having a tough time at school and with growing up in general. At a party, she is unwittingly ‘turned on’ to drugs via LSD and is soon hanging out with fellow ‘dopers’ and pushers. No matter how wild her behaviour – running away to San Francisco, risking pregnancy, selling pills to children – her family still care for her. When she finally seems to have turned over a new leaf, the ‘squares’ at school won’t accept her, while the drug users harass her. The most horrific point, in my opinion, is when she has a bad trip from a spiked snack, injures herself and ends up in the youth centre of a mental hospital, where she writes down the stories of other kids, which serve as further cautionary tales. It’s a very compelling read with a strong anti-drugs stance, of course, but it can also be seen as critical of the counter-culture and 1970s hippies. The endnote tries to explain to parents why teenagers are behaving this way and how they can be helped. It’s interesting that the book is still so popular (it was first published in 1971), which means it remains relevant, despite some outdated language. I was surprised to find that the book is more than 50 years old, as the grunge-style ‘heroin chic’ cover of my edition made me think it was originally from the 90s.
The title, Go Ask Alice, is from the lyrics of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (a recent song at the time the book was published). A teenager could be thinking about trying drugs or is under pressure from their friends, so the title invites them to go ask Alice…
Recommended, but proceed with caution if you are easily disturbed.
An interesting coincidence is that The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was published this same year, another controversial and shocking read.