Literature / Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice is a novel by youth counsellor Beatrice Sparks, first published in 1971. It is the story of a troubled young woman who seeks solace in drugs and the counterculture. She comes to grief as a result. It is famous for its Drugs Are Bad message, being banned for references to sex, rape and drugs, and almost certainly being a fake. Rather than being a Real Life diary of a young drug addict, it is the work of Beatrice Sparks, who attempted to pass it off as true for a number of years. It is classic School Study Media.

The novel is a dark Coming-of-Age Story. The work takes the form of a "diary", the keeper of which is not named. Usually she is called Alice, from the title, but her name is actually Carla, and Alice is an addict who she briefly meets on the street. Carla is a sensitive fifteen-year-old girl, alienated from her conservative parents and initially without friends. When she does start making friends and discovers the The '60s counterculture, she also encounters drugs. Her first experience is benign: she is unwittingly given LSD at her friend Jill's birthday party and has a pleasant trip.

Carla loses her virginity while on LSD. She feels guilty about this and her drug use. She and her female friend Chris take to dealing drugs for their respective boyfriends. Upon discovering said boyfriends having sex with each other, they leave for San Francisco, leaving their families as well.

In San Francisco, they move into a small apartment and get jobs. Their vow to stay clean does not last—in fact, they use harder drugs. While on heroin at a party, both girls are raped. They return home for Christmas, again vow to stay off drugs, again relapse, and this time are busted and Carla gets probation. Carla runs away again and spends the next few weeks in a drug-induced haze skirting along the West Coast. In her sober moments, she is horrified at what she's become and again returns home, determined to stay off drugs for real this time. However, she's now harassed by her former stoner friends who accuse her of being a "fink" and frame her for drug possession. After inadvertently ingesting acid (planted by her former friends) and suffering a nearly-fatal bad trip, Carla is sent to an asylum, where she sorta bonds with a younger and even more broken girl named Babbie.

The novel at first seems to end on a high, so to speak, with Carla reunited with her family, off drugs, with a boyfriend named Joel and showing greater maturity. An epilogue slams that with a Downer Ending.

The portrayal of Sixties hippie culture is limited. Tellingly, political protest and music are scarcely mentioned. It works best as a critique of the hedonistic excesses of the movement. As a "warning work," it has similarities to Requiem for a Dream. It has a similar theme of disenchanted youth going off the rails as is found in The Catcher in the Rye.

Adapted into a 1973 Made-for-TV Movie starring William Shatner and Andy Griffith, among others.

If you are looking for the trope that used to have this name, please see Alice Allusion.

Go Ask Alice provides examples of these tropes:

  • Alice Allusion: In relay: the book is named from "White Rabbit", a song by the contemporary psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane who in turn saw drug imagery in Alice in Wonderland. Carla in the novel also wonders if Lewis Carroll was on drugs when he wrote it.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
    • Carla mentions feeling attraction to girls at several points and even wonders if her Romantic Two-Girl Friendship is just a phase or something more.
    • Carla catches her boyfriend Richie having sex with Ted. It's never clarified what Richie's sexuality was, but Carla seems to think he was gay.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The narrator speaks glowingly of her experiences in Coos Bay, Oregon, and in the same breath describes how she visited the Psychedelic Shop and the Digger Free Store. Both these establishments were in San Francisco, neither was a franchise, and both had closed down by the time the narrator got there.
  • Ascended Extra: Carla's – er, "Alice"'s – friend Beth is one in the movie version. In the novel, Beth is never mentioned again after Carla notes that Beth found a boyfriend at "Jewish summer camp" and never has time for her anymore. In the movie, "Alice" tries to resume her friendship with Beth after getting clean, but Beth rejects her due to "Alice"'s bad reputation; however, by the end of the film, the two girls are friends again.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Ostensibly the real diary of a teenage girl, it was in fact entirely fabricated by Sparks. She has also released a series of other "true diaries" in the same vein, but dealing with different subjects, such as AIDS (It Happened to Nancy), teen pregnancy (Annie's Baby), and depression-linked Satanism, we kid you not (Jay's Journal).
    • Ironically, the success of Go Ask Alice convinced the family of "Jay" to give their son's journal to Sparks for editing, assuming she would turn the journal into a cautionary tale for other parents of at-risk children. In reality, "Jay" was a mere depressed, troubled teen who committed suicide. Sparks expanded a single mention of Satanism into a major theme of the book and invented journal entries to support the Satanism theme. Jay's parents later claimed that Sparks had ruined their lives and tarnished their son's memory.
  • Break the Cutie: Carla starts out a peppy fifteen-year-old before getting mixed with drugs.
  • Broken Bird: Carla and also her friend Babbie, whom she meets while in the asylum.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Ticks the boxes.
  • Contemplating Your Hands: This stoner cliché makes an appearance: in one scene, hands become fascinating under the influence.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Carla's got her life back together, is making new friends, and has a boyfriend... Then the epilogue notes that she died of a drug overdose two weeks later.
  • Dan Browned: The book is not the result of researching a real account. It is fiction.
  • Death by Despair: After Carla's grandfather dies, his wife stops eating and dies a few weeks later as well.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Sheila the fashion designer. She and her boyfriend Rod are the ones who rape both Carla and Chris in San Francisco.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The drug dealers Richie and Ted.
  • Downer Ending: At first you think it's going to have a happy ending with the main character changing her life for the better. But then in the epilogue, you find out that she died three weeks later of an overdose. It's not clear if it was an accidental one or if it was a suicide by premeditated overdose.
  • Dramatic Irony: Carla often mentions her feelings on death and dying. Guess what happens to her? The same applies to her elation post-recovery.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Carla suddenly dies on the final page.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Basically Drugs Are Bad: The Book the same way Requiem for a Dream is Drugs Are Bad: The Movie.
  • Emo Teen: Carla, Babbie, Chris.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Parent: Minor character Mike's parents think only "weaklings and bums" are artists. This caused him to run away from home.
  • First-Name Basis: It's mentioned that the kids at the youth center call everyone but the doctors by their given names.
  • The Generation Gap: As a theme. It helps divide Carla from her parents.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Carla contemplates this idea several times.
  • The Hero Dies: Carla dies of an overdose two weeks after her final diary entry. It's unknown if it was accidental or suicide.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Many of Carla's drug experience have a distinctly religious feel.
  • Hope Spot: Just when you think Carla's on the right track to a bright, successful future, literally the last page tells you that she died of a drug overdose and her body was found by her parents after coming home from a night out.
  • Insert Song: In the 1973 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation, the song "Dear Mr. Fantasy" by Traffic is used as background music for a drug party "Alice" (Carla) is attending, and shows up again during the bad trip that sends her to the mental hospital.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: The fact that the book follows this is cited by Snopes as evidence that it is fake. After all, one would expect a real teenage girl's diary to ramble on about silly gossip rather than focusing so much on her plot-relevant drug addiction. When this first came out, many reviewers simply assumed it had been edited to take out all the chit-chat.
  • Marijuana Is LSD: Apparently, marijuana was much better in the '60s.
  • Misery Lit: The book tried to pass itself off as this, but is now widely agreed to be a work of fiction.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In her sober moments, Carla regrets the pain and shame her drug habit, and especially her running away from home, has brought her family.
  • My Name Is Not Shazam: As noted above, Alice is not the protagonist's name. Officially she's "anonymous", though a quote from a drug dealer's child indicates her name is possibly Carla (which is used on this entry). There is a minor character named "Alice"; however, she isn't the protagonist. The Made-for-TV Movie adaptation goes ahead and gives her name as Alice, presumably because Viewers Are Morons.
  • New Transfer Student: The book begins with Carla moving to a new town a few pages in. Her awkwardness at her new school leads to her falling in with the wrong crowd.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Carla's friend Beth is a Nice Jewish Girl whose parents keep on trying to get her to date Nice Jewish Boys.
  • Parental Incest: One character's step-father raped her.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Probably due to Values Dissonance or maybe even the drugs, but Carla has nasty opinions on LGBT people. She uses slurs often. This even applies to her own bicuriosity.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: The parents of Carla's friend Chris, whose marriage had been on the rocks (apparently due to the father's extramarital affairs while traveling for work), apparently reconcile due to their concern about their daughter. Later on, it's mentioned that Chris and her parents moved away to a new city, sparing Chris the difficulties Carla experiences with her former "grass gang" friends.
  • The Runaway: At several points, Carla runs away from home and goes on the bus to another city. She also meets several teens who have also run away in the past.
  • Scare 'em Straight: The work's probable objective, as an anti-drug tract.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Carla's struggles and growth are rendered sadly pointless by the epilogue.
  • The '60s: The setting, as filtered through an anti-drugs activist.
  • Slipping a Mickey: How the protagonist gets her first hit of LSD. It's a beautiful trip, and she immediately spirals headlong into full-blown drug experimentation and addiction. Later in the book, it nearly costs Carla her life, as she eats some candy unaware that her former stoner friends have spiked it with acid; this time, it's a bad trip and nearly kills her.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Carla has several scares starting when she loses her virginity at fifteen. The first one escalates her drug dependency, as she's so worried about possibly being pregnant that she's unable to sleep and ends up stealing sleeping pills from her grandfather and later getting a prescription for tranquilizers (which, it's implied, she continues to abuse even after it turns out she's not pregnant).
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Though it's marketed as the real-life diary of a teenage girl, the copyright page gives you the truth: "This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."
  • Titled After the Song: Named for a line in Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit".
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Epidemic, considering the book's theme. The protagonist is barely fifteen when she spirals into a life full of promiscuity, heavy drug use, sexual abuse, and pill pushing. She mentions selling drugs to children as young as eight. Several of the minor characters also had difficult lives from young ages, such as how Babbie began using drugs at eleven and became a prostitute at twelve.
  • Weight Woe: Prior to starting drugs, Carla was upset over her weight and started fad dieting to lose weight.
  • Younger Than They Look: A girl who looks eighteen or nineteen is revealed to be only fourteen.