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Literature / Go Ask Alice

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Okay, two things:
1) her name is not Alice,
and 2) this is not a true story.

Go Ask Alice is a novel first published in 1971. It is the story of a troubled teenage girl who seeks solace in drugs and the counterculture of The '60s, and comes to grief as a result. It is famous for its Drugs Are Bad message, being classic School Study Media, being frequently challenged for its references to drugs, sex, and rape, and being a fictional story (confirmed several times, most recently in 2022). Although it was originally presented anonymously as the Real Life diary of a young drug addict, it is actually the work of Beatrice Sparks, who claimed that it was real for a number of years before questions about the book's authenticity brought forth the truth.

The novel is a dark Coming of Age Story that takes the form of a "diary", the keeper of which is not named. (Readers usually call her Alice, from the title, or Carla, based on a remark she drops late in the story.note ) She's a sensitive 15-year-old girl, alienated from her conservative parents and initially with few friends, having just moved to a new town. When she does start making friends and discovers '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.

She loses her virginity while on LSD, and feels guilty about this and her drug use. With her 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.note  Things do not go up from there.

The novel's portrayal of '60s drug culture (and "hippie" references) is limited, and in fact laughably inaccurate. Tellingly, The Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, general political protest and music are scarcely mentioned. It perhaps works best as a critique of the hedonistic excesses of the psychedelic movement.

A Made-for-TV Movie adapted from the novel was released in 1973, starring William Shatner, Andy Griffith, and (ironically, given her own drug use at the time) Mackenzie Phillips, among others.

Compare Requiem for a Dream, a similar "warning work" about drugs, and The Catcher in the Rye, which has a similar theme of disenchanted youth going off the rails.

In 2022, Rick Emerson published a book, Unmask Alice, which reveals the truth about this classic literary hoax and about the real tragedy behind her later work, Jay's Journal. As he states, Sparks was a Mormon youth counselor hellbent on Being Somebody, and she didn't care what lies she had to tell or whose memories she had to destroy to get there.

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:

  • The '60s: Presumably when the story is set. The narrator refers to the fashion, the hairstyles, the counterculture, and, of course, the drugs of the era. It also drops a lot of period slang (like wow, man, groovy, etc.).
  • Adapted Out: The movie version omits Carla's younger sister Alexandria and her grandparents, among other characters.
  • 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. Shelia 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. In the book, it's the cops who bust Carla and Chris for drugs at Chris's house. In both versions, the narrator tries to talk her way out of trouble; it works in the movie, but not in the novel, where she ends up with a criminal record and is placed on a very tight leash by her parents (which leads to her running away a second time, which is also not in the film).
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the book, Carla's employers lock her into a closet while she's suffering a bad trip. In the television movie, however, Carla's last sane act before the acid kicks in is to lock herself into the closet to protect the infant in her care.
  • 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.
  • Adults Are Useless: The narrator warns her parents of the doper kids' harassments — minus the sexual threats — but they don't take it seriously enough, thinking "the kids are just putting me on and that they wouldn't do anything to hurt me." After her grandparents' deaths, she is reluctant to burden her parents further. Not until she has the bad trip, the Alpha Bitches falsely testify in court that the narrator has been harassing them, and she's locked up in a "youth center" do her parents realize what the doper kids are capable ofnote .
  • 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 feelings are just a phase or something more.
    • She catches her boyfriend Richie having sex with Chris's boyfriend Ted. It's never clarified what Richie's sexuality was, but she seems to think he was gay or perhaps out of his mind because of the drugs.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Carla's relationship with her younger brother Tim and younger sister Alexandria is rocky, to put it mildly, at the beginning of the novel. It's implied Tim can be downright cruel to his older sister at times and is ashamed of her, especially after she runs away from home. As a result of running away, though, she begins to appreciate her younger siblings more, and she and Tim become very close.
  • 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). According to Rick Emerson's research, Sparks likely took inspiration from the troubles of a real teenage girl she worked with at a Mormon summer camp, but the diary, and Carla/"Alice", are entirely Spark's fabrications.
    • 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—as despite how much of the book she made up wholesale, Sparks left in plenty of identifying details. Barrett's parents later claimed that Sparks had tarnished their child's memory and ruined their lives. Barrett's brother Scott later wrote a rebuttal to Jay's Journal titled A Place in the Sun.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Old Man: Carla is regularly propositioned by older men in San Francisco - while their wives are present. Then there's Rod, who actually participates in sexually assaulting her and Chris.
  • 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, if it was a suicide by premeditated overdose, or if perhaps she was murdered by her former doper friends.
  • 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.
  • Drugs Causing Slow-Motion: When the protagonist realizes that her cup has been spiked for a "game," she sees everything in slow-motion and hears voices in low frequency.
  • 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.
  • From Bad to Worse: Just when you thought Beatrice Sparks couldn't take the narrator any lower and more degraded, we have this charming entry: "I don't know what or when or who it is! I only know that I am now a Priestess of Satan trying to maintainnote  after a freak-outnote  to test how free everybody was and to take our vows." Yep, she went there.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Noodle Incident: It's not mentioned exactly how Carla and Chris "manage" to stay in drugs after their connection, Lane, is forced to "go straight" after he's caught by the cops. Given that Carla mentions in the same diary entry she's considering taking the pill, it could be assumed that they've started prostituting for either drugs or the cash to buy them. Later on, Carla does indeed start selling sexual favors for drugs when she runs away for the second time.
  • Off the Wagon: Carla swears off drugs cold turkey on several occasions only to end up re-hooked. Just when it appears she's strong enough to finally stay clean and sober for good, she dies of an overdose, though it's not clarified how she got the drugs or whether she took them willingly.
  • Parental Incest: One character's step-father raped her starting when she was eleven.
  • Parental Neglect: Chris's parents are so busy, and spend so much time fighting when they aren't busy, that they never have time for her. It takes Chris's drug escapade to bring her parents back together.
  • Parental Obliviousness: The narrator finds it hilarious that her parents approve of their daughter's newfound popularity without realizing she's fallen in with the drug crowd. Similarly, they scold her for her clothes and use of slang while overlooking the far more important fact that she's popping tranquilizers and uppers right in front of them. This is illustrated in the television movie by a scene in which Alice's friends attend her birthday party, while her parents can't tell that all of these kids—including their daughter—are stoned out of their minds.
  • 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.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Even after she gets clean and sober, Carla finds that her "straight" classmates nevertheless want nothing to do with anyone with a "doper" reputation, while the dopers themselves now suspect her of being a narc and set out to make her life a living hell. By the end of the book, however, she's beginning to make friends with some "straight" kids who don't know about her past. Of course, it's just in time for her to die of an overdose.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Three: The narrator has a habit of trebling certain words for emphasis: her hair is "long, long, long"; having joints to smoke when she's by herself is "nice, nice, nice"; and so on. This was a popular expression back then, and can often be heard in commercials.
  • 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.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: There's plenty of sex and drugs, but little or no mention of rock in the book (there's a bit of music in the film, of course). This is one of the least realistic elements. Music, particularly electric amplified rock, acoustic "folk" or "folk-rock", and rock-inspired pop, was one of the driving forces behind 1960s culture and counterculture, especially the drug scene. Other than the title referencing Jefferson Airplane's ode to LSD, the music isn't nearly as much of a presence as it should be. Sparks probably couldn't have the narrator quoting lyrics without a lot of work to secure copyright permission, but mentioning more artist names and song titles could have provided additional credence.
  • 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 either plainly takes place in The '70s or is an example of Anachronism Stew in regards to pop music, 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 it's spiked with acid (apparently done by her former stoner friends); 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.
  • Warm Milk Helps You Sleep: The narrator's mother makes them warm milk on a long, sleepless night after Gramps's funeral.
  • Weight Woe: Prior to starting drugs, Carla 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). When her mother insists that she eat, Carla then considers resorting to bulimia. Later she finds that drugs help curb her appetite.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the movie version, Chris is never heard from or seen again after "Alice" returns home to her family, and it's unresolved as to whether Chris made it home at all. In the novel, it's mentioned that Chris and her family moved away (it can be assumed this happened while Carla was away for the second time, since she left by herself and Chris did not accompany her), but not whether she was able to get off drugs (since she had relapsed when last we saw her).
  • 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).