“I guess I’ll never measure up to anyone’s expectations. I surely don’t measure up to what I’d like to be.”
First, I’d like to apologize for taking so long on this– I’d completely forgotten to write a review once I’d finished the book, and just now remembered it hadn’t been posted.
About five months ago, I posted a review of Jay’s Journal, which was mainly written by the same author as Go Ask Alice, although both have the author’s name listed as “Anonymous” on the front covers. And the explanation for that is simple: there’s a lot of controversy over whether these diaries are real or just made up by Beatrice Sparks, who is listed as the “editor”, or a little of both. And although I don’t want to make this a rant post, that’s probably what’s going to happen. So if that’s not what you came here for, leave now or face extreme disappointment.
Alright, so. Go Ask Alice is about a fifteen-year old girl in the 70s who writes in her diary about normal teenage problems, but eventually becomes involved with drugs. (When I say drugs, I mean LSD, although there are a few mentions of other drugs.) Pretty simple, pretty straightforward, deals with a lot of common young adult novel topics.
Now I’m going to do some comparisons between this book and Jay’s Journal, which I’ll link the review to here in case you’re interested. There are a few things they have in common that emphasize the fact that they’re not true, if even a little: tripe repetition of words or phrases (“I do! I do! I do!”), vocabulary that no normal teen uses, and nearly identical writing style. Other than the subject matter and the character of Jay’s use of poems in his entries, they could easily have been narrated by the same character. In my opinion, Go Ask Alice is wholly fiction, and Jay’s Journal is mostly fiction. I’d like to include a few passages from the books’ Wikipedia articles to show you:
From the Jay’s Journal article:
Jay’s Journal is a book presented as an autobiographical account of a depressed teenage boy who becomes involved with a Satanic group. After participating in several occult rituals, “Jay” believes he is being haunted by a demon named Raul. The book is based on “true” events of 16-year-old Alden Barrett from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who committed suicide in 1971.
Some critics have challenged the authenticity of the story, noting that the editor of this book, Beatrice Sparks, has filled the same role on many other “actual, anonymous diaries of teenagers” that explore such sensational themes as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and prostitution. These books, the most well-known of which is Go Ask Alice, serve as cautionary tales.
According to a book written by Barrett’s brother Scott (A Place in the Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal), and interviews with the family, Sparks used roughly 25 entries of 212 total from Barrett’s actual journal. The other entries were fictional, based on case histories from other teenagers Sparks worked with, and interviews of friends and acquaintances of Barrett.
A rock opera titled A Place in the Sun was created and performed by Utah country band Grain in 1997. According to some family members, it was a more accurate portrayal and showed Sparks’ alleged exploitation of the story.
And, from the Go Ask Alice article’s Authorship section:
Go Ask Alice was originally promoted as nonfiction and was published under the byline “Anonymous.” However, not long after its publication, Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist, began making media appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor.
Searches at the U.S. Copyright Office show that Sparks is the sole copyright holder for Go Ask Alice. Furthermore, she is listed on the copyright record as the book’s author — not as the editor, compiler, or executor, which would be more usual for someone publishing the diary of a deceased person. (According to the book itself, the sole copyright is owned by Prentice-Hall.)
In an October 1979, essay by Alleen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Nilsen surmised that Sparks partially based Go Ask Alice on the diary of one of her patients, but that she had added various fictional incidents. Sparks told Nilson that she could not produce the original diary, because she had destroyed part of it after transcribing it and the rest was locked away in the publisher’s vault. Nilsen wrote, “The question of how much of Go Ask Alice was written by the real Alice and how much by Beatrice Sparks can only be conjectured.”
Sparks’ second “diary” project, Jay’s Journal, gave rise to a controversy that cast further doubt on Go Ask Alice’s veracity. Jay’s Journal was allegedly the diary of a boy who committed suicide after becoming involved with the occult. Again, Sparks claimed to have based it on the diary of a patient. However, the family of the boy in question, Alden Barrett, disowned the book. They claimed that Sparks had used only a handful of the actual diary entries, and had invented the great majority of the book, including the entire occult angle. This led many to speculate that “Alice’s” diary—if indeed it existed—had received similar treatment. No one claiming to have known the real “Alice” has ever come forward.
And a final section I’d like to share:
In an article on the Urban Legends Reference Pages (snopes.com), urban folklore expert Barbara Mikkelson points out that even before the revelations about Go Ask Alice‘s authorship, there was ample internal evidence that the book was not an actual diary. The lengthy, detailed passages about the harmful effects of illicit drugs and the relatively small amount of space dedicated to relationships and social gossip seem uncharacteristic of a teenaged girl’s diary. In addition, the article mentions the disclaimer in the book’s copyright notice page, which states: “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.”
There are some errors of consistency. On page 16, the author has not “had time to write for two days”. In the same paragraph she refers to the last entry as “yesterday” when she says, “I’ve apologized to every room about the way I felt last night” even though according to her first sentence she would have felt that way two nights ago, not “last night”. On pages 79–80, the text describes the girl living with a friend in Coos Bay, Oregon, where she enthuses over the Diggers’ Free Store and the Psychedelic Shop – both establishments were actually in San Francisco. Another error is on page 2 where the author writes “It’s my birthday. I’m 15.” Later in the book on page 46 in August the author writes “After all I’ve just turned 15 and I can’t stop life and get off” meaning she did not turn 15 eleven months ago.
Well, that’s mostly all I have to say about that. I don’t think I would’ve complained so much about the validity of the book if it weren’t for my hatred of it– I found it an extremely boring, hit-and-miss novel, but the hits were so few they were nearly nonexistent. It’s a really popular book, however, so you may like it– who knows. Maybe I’m just one of those people who despises a bestseller. But, if you do decide to read it and completely agree with me, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉