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. Actually, Alice is an addict who she briefly meets on the street. A remark she drops late in the story has led some readers to think the narrator's real name is Carla. She's a sensitive fifteen-year-old girl, alienated from her conservative parents and initially with few 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.
Losing her virginity while on LSD, she feels guilty about this and her drug use. With female friend Chris she takes 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 our heroine gets probation. Running away again she 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, the narrator 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 our girl 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 drug culture (and "hippie" references) is limited. Tellingly, political protest and music are scarcely mentioned. It works best as a critique of the hedonistic excesses of the psychedelic 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.
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:
- Adaptation Distillation: The 1973 made-for-TV movie version condenses the storyline of the novel considerably. Missing from the movie are Carla/Alice's angsting over her crush, Roger; most of her adventures as a runaway; and her time in a mental hospital after her freak-out, among other things. Roger, Carla's grandparents and younger sister, Babbie, and other important supporting characters in the novel do not appear in the film. Sheila and Rod, a couple who sexually assault Carla and Chris in the novel, appear only briefly in a flashback scene in the film (and are not mentioned by name). There's a considerable amount of Bowdlerization due to content as well. On the other hand, the movie also adds a scene of "Alice" being busted by her parents for pill possession, which was not in the novel (she gets out of trouble quickly by promising never to do it again). In the book, it's the cops who bust Carla and Chris for drugs at Chris's house.
- Addiction Displacement: Carla turns first to junk food and then to drugs as a coping mechanism, as she finds Bennies suppress her appetite and help her stay thin.
- 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. This was a very common insight among the stoned; the narrator also wonders if Lewis Carroll was on drugs when he wrote it. The 1973 TV movie, unsurprisingly, uses a cover of the song as its opening and closing theme.
- Ambiguously Bi:
- She mentions feeling attraction to girls at several points and even wonders if her Romantic Two-Girl Friendship is just a phase or something more.
- She catches her boyfriend Richie having sex with Ted. It's never clarified what Richie's sexuality was, but she 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: Beth, Carla's Jewish best friend, 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, it's "Alice" who dumps Beth for being a "square" who isn't into drugs. "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 have made up.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: Ostensibly the real diary of a teenage girl, it was in fact entirely fabricated by Sparks. She later 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 Alden Barrett—a teenage boy suffering from depression that drove him to commit suicide at age 16—to give their late son's journal to Sparks for editing, in hopes that she would turn the journal into a cautionary tale for other parents of at-risk children. Instead, Sparks expanded a single mention of the occult into a major theme of the book. The result, titled Jay's Journal, depicts Jay as a Satan worshipper who sacrifices animals, drinks blood, and is ultimately driven to suicide by a demon he has summoned. Of the 212 "entries" in Jay's Journal, 187 were found to have been fabricated by Sparks. Meanwhile, after the book's publication, Barrett's gravesite was repeatedly vandalized by both religious extremists claiming he was burning in hell, and by would-be Satanists who conducted rituals at his grave. Barrett's parents later claimed that Sparks had tarnished their child's memory and ruined their lives.
- Better Than Sex: Better than sober sex, anyway. Carla loses her virginity to fellow doper Bill and then becomes sexually active with drug dealer Richie, but notes at one point that they only ever make love when they're stoned and she wonders whether sexual intercourse while one is sober could be so exciting. Later, after getting clean, she mentions she somehow feels as though she is still a virgin despite all the sex she's had while stoned.
- Black Sheep: Even before her drug experimentation begins, Carla considers herself as such due to her social awkwardness and insecurity and is constantly comparing herself to her seemingly more well-adjusted younger siblings. In her sober moments, she realizes that she's become the Black Sheep for real, as she regrets the pain and shame she's brought her family.
- Bowdlerise: The 1973 made-for-TV movie version tones the sexual content of the novel down considerably to make the film suitable for "family viewing" (as stated in the introduction). The word "sex" is never used in the film, and story elements such as Richie and Ted's homosexuality and "Alice" and Chris being raped by Sheila and Rod are only hinted at.
- Break the Cutie: Carla starts out a peppy, if awkward and insecure, 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 the narrator 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: She 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: Our girl 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: The narrator, of course, along with Babbie and 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.
- Flashback Nightmare: After getting clean and sober, she is hit with one out of the blue while doing her homework one evening.
- The Generation Gap: As a theme. It helps divide the narrator from her parents.
- Growing Up Sucks: She contemplates this idea several times.
- The Hero Dies: Yes, 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 the described drug experience have a distinctly religious feel.
- Hope Spot: Just when you think our heroine'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.
- Informed Judaism: Beth is Jewish, and the diarist learns a lot about the religion through her interactions with Beth.
- Insert Song: In the 1973 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation, a cover of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" is used as background music for a drug party "Alice" 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 (for example, an extended description of her first drug trip, but almost nothing about being stood up by a boy, or even losing her virginity). 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.
- Meganekko: "Alice"'s friend Beth Baum, in the movie version.
- 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, the narrator 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 note indicates her name is possibly Carla. 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 our heroine 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: Beth is a Nice Jewish Girl whose parents keep on trying to get her to date Nice Jewish Boys. She then meets one for real while away at a "Jewish summer camp", and the narrator notes in her diary that she and Beth have grown apart as Beth now spends all her time with the boyfriend. (In the movie version, "Alice" and Beth reconcile by the end of the film and "Alice" befriends Beth's boyfriend.)
- Parental Incest: One character's step-father raped her starting when she was eleven.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: Probably due to Values Dissonance or maybe even the drugs, but the narrator has nasty opinions on LGBT people. She uses slurs often. This even applies to her own bi-curiosity.
- Post-Stress Overeating: Before she discovers drugs, Carla's way of dealing with her unhappiness and loneliness at school is eating junk food. After her first day of school goes badly, she drowns her sorrows in a malt, French fries and chocolate bar at the drugstore.
- Relationship Revolving Door: For the first half of the novel the diarist has an on-and-off relationship with a handsome boy named Roger, with whom she is virtually obsessed for a time. It apparently ends when Roger goes away to military school and the two lose touch due to the diarist's drug use and attendant adventures. After getting clean, the narrator meets a new boy named Joel, and we can assume Roger is completely in the wind at this point.
- Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: The parents of Chris, whose marriage had been on the rocks (apparently due to the father's extramarital affairs), 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 the heroine experiences with her former "grass gang" friends. At the height of said difficulties, Carla briefly considers moving to Seattle to live with relatives to get away from the harassment.
- The Runaway: At several points, the narrator 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: Her struggles and eventual insights and growth are rendered sadly pointless by the epilogue.
- The '60s: The setting, as filtered through an anti-drugs activist.
- By contrast, the film version rather plainly takes place in The '70s, as hinted by the use of popular songs such as "Do You Know What I Mean" by Lee Michaels and "Outa-Space" by Billy Preston (both hits in the early half of the '70s).
- Slipping a Mickey: How the protagonist gets her first hit of LSD: she drinks a bottle of soda laced with the drug. It's a beautiful trip, and she immediately spirals headlong into full-blown drug experimentation and addiction. At one point she even considers doing this to her younger brother. Later in the book, it nearly costs the heroine her life, as she eats some candy (in the film, she drinks a bottle of cola, just as she did the first time) unaware that her former stoner friends have spiked it with acid; this time, it's a bad trip and nearly kills her.
- Teen Pregnancy: The narrator 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). She mentions that no drug addict can use birth control pills because they don't know what day it is.
- 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, she is upset over her weight and starts starvation-dieting to lose weight (in fact, it's one of the catalysts for her friendship with Beth, who is also weight-conscious). Later she finds that drugs help curb her appetite.
- World of No Grandparents: The narrator loses both of her beloved grandparents during the course of the novel - Gramps suffers a fatal heart attack, and Gran dies of a broken heart afterward.
- Younger Than They Look: A girl who looks eighteen or nineteen is revealed to be only fourteen. In the film, this role is given to Doris (played by Mackenzie Phillips).