I finally got an audio version of Go Ask Alice and have been listening to it every free second I’ve had in my car. I’ve heard Go Ask Alice pegged often as one of the first modern YA books and, I guess, in a lot of ways maybe it is.
The book is advertised as based on the real diary of a teenage girl growing up in the early 70s. The diary follows the worsening drug addiction of the unnamed narrator, highlighting the problems of middle class drug use. The narrator becomes homeless, engages in prostitution, and pushes drugs to elementary school kids. It’s a total train wreck.
But the book (and its subsequent TV movie) have become a bit of an urban legend. The book was supposedly penned by “anonymous.” But, listening to the book, I started to wonder if this was a true story at all. I knew that the diary would have been edited, but honestly, I started having a hard time believing that the teenage narrator would have written this at all. I started to do a little research and, yeah, I’m not the only one questioning.
Expert Barbara Mikkelson points out that, for a teenage girl’s diary, there is way too much space dedicated to long descriptive passages about how drugs feel and not nearly enough to personal relationships, boys, gossip, etc. For me, the narrator’s repetitive odes to marijuana were what set me on edge. Others have commented that specific details were mixed up that the author of the diary would not have mixed up. For instance, the narrator talks about the Psychedelic Shop and Diggers’ Free Store while living in Coos Bay, Oregon when both those stores are in San Fransisco. It’s possible, I guess, that the narrator could have been confused enough from the drug use to mix up her time spent in San Fran versus Coos Bay, but I don’t know…
Apparently skeptics have gone digging and the Copyright Office shows Beatrice Sparks, the diary’s editor as the copyright holder and she is actually listed as the diary’s author. Normally for posthumous diaries I guess the editor would be listed as the compiler, executor, or editor–not the author. Sparks was a psychologist and a Mormon youth counselor. She claims that Go Ask Alice was based on the diary of a patient. She went on to “edit” several more diaries based on those of her patient’s. One such work was Jay’s Journal, about a boy that committed suicide after becoming involved in the occult. After its publication, the alleged boy’s family came forward and said that the book had been based on only a couple real diary entries and that the entire occult angle was imagined. Interestingly, no one has ever come forward as being related to the narrator of Go Ask Alice.
In 1998, Mark Oppenheimer wrote a NYT article entitled, “Just Say Uh-Oh” in which he claimed that Linda Glovach was a co-author of Go Ask Alice, unkindly calling her one of the “forgers” of the book.
Another Go Ask Alice misconception exists regarding the narrator’s name. It’s not Alice, which is exactly what I had thought, too. Go Ask Alice comes from the lyrics of a Jefferson Airplane song called “White Rabbit.” At one point, the narrator meets a homeless drug addict sitting on the curb named Alice, but this encounter is very brief. The narrator also references Alice in Wonderland, musing that perhaps Lewis Carroll was on drugs when he wrote it. For a moment, I thought perhaps the narrator’s name was Carla, as she references a little boy walking in on her prostituting herself for drugs and says (more or less) that his father can’t come to the door because of Carla. But I haven’t found any support for that and there may have been another girl in the room at the time.
In any case, I guess Go Ask Alice will remain one of those literary mysteries. Have you read it? Do you think it’s real?