When I started this reading project, I figured that some of the books I read were going to be as good, if not better, as they were when I read them as a kid. I figured some would not hold up as well. And I figured there was a risk that I'd run across at least one that horrified me.
I was dead on. I loved Harriet the Spy and Beat the Turtle Drum (and would have loved Summer of Fear if it hadn't been "updated"); I found Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Summer of My German Soldier to not be quite as good as I remembered, but still worth a visit. Today, Go Ask Alice wins the dubious honor of being the book that horrified me.
Actually, pissed me off might be a better term than horrified. And pissed off at the younger me for having bought into this stinking pile of crap when I was a teen. Yes, yes, I remind myself that I was much younger, not as well read, not as knowledgeable, etc. But still--I thought this was as good as Anne Frank's Diary? What? Really, teenaged me? These two diaries aren't apples and oranges, they're apples and orangutans.
But I'm also pissed off at the publishing industry at the time for the sheer heights of manipulation. The book opens:
"Go Ask Alice is based on the actual diary of a fifteen-year-old drug user."
I should have read Lizzie Skurnick's piece in Shelf Discovery before reading the book itself: "You are just going to feel dumb if you reread this debunked diary...BECAUSE IT IS TRULY THE WORST-WRITTEN BOOK IN THE WORLD."
It's anti-drug propaganda, horribly written, designed to try and scare kids off drugs. I guess you could say it worked with me, but that may have had more to do with lack of access. (The area where I grew up is now teeming with meth problems, but back then, drinking was the big issue.) As I read it this week, my incredulity mounted with each page. I think this may have been written by some Nancy Reagan "just say no" type who never really had a teenaged life.
There are pages and pages of lengthy descriptions of her highs, but little mention of her social life. There's a passing reference to "Guess what! I woke up as a Satanic priestess this morning", but it's never mentioned again. After trying all kinds of drugs, including LSD, she finally reaches the pinnacle she's been waiting for: pot! Best of all, after turning her life around and getting off drugs, she dies of an overdose.
Take that, you kids who are even thinking about doing drugs. No happy endings for you.
Apparently Go Ask Alice was "edited" by one Beatrice Sparks, who seems to have had considerable access to diaries of troubled teens. Besides Alice, she also "edited" diaries from kids who supposedly 1. were homeless; 2. were taken advantage of sexually by their teacher; 3. got pregnant; 4. got into drugs and Satan worship (but a boy this time); 5. were dying of AIDS. Wow, Ms. Sparks, that's some company you keep.
A horribly written book, and a book that blatantly lied to me as a teen. In recent years, the publisher has labeled it as fiction, and the library shelved it that way too, but that opening page, with its "based on an actual diary", makes me very, very angry. I don't like finding out 35 years later that a book that was so pivotal to my reading is actually a fraud. And it makes me angry that it's still in print, and still being presented as an "actual diary", even if it's shelved in fiction. Today's teens deserve better than that. In fact, I was so angry that I may have--I'm not saying I did--but I may have--used my nice black gel pen to write "Not according to Snopes.com" under the "actual diary" note.
But, if you still want to pursue it, YouTube has the full movie available. Bonus: William Shatner plays the girl's dad, and Andy Griffith is a kindly priest. I guess Beatrice Sparks saved the diary from the kid abused by a priest for a different book.