Go Ask Alice is a 1971 novel by Beatrice Sparks that bills itself the “real-life diary” of an anonymous teenage girl. It has sold over four million copies, was adapted as a TV movie with William Shatner, and is still in print over 40 years later. I read it when I was in the seventh grade and was absolutely terrified by the searingly honest portrayal of what (I assumed) it felt like to do drugs.
On rereading it as a slightly less credulous adult, I am amazed that even at twelve I was ever fooled by the least credible imitation of a teenage girl ever to stain a page. The entire book reads like the literary equivalent of this tweet:
HELLO FELLOW HUMAN TEENS I HEARD THE COOLEST PLACE FOR US TEENS TO HANG OUT IS Ｔｈｅ Ｃｏｌｏｓｓａｌ Ｐｉｌｌａｒ ｏｆ Ｗａｓｐ Ｅｇｇｓ LETS GO DO NOT BRING WEAPONS
— Glempner (@pisscop) May 9, 2011
“Wonderful news, Diary! We’re moving. Daddy has been invited to become the Dean of Political Science at——————. Isn’t that exciting! Maybe it will be like it was when I was younger. Maybe again he’ll teach in Europe every summer and we’ll go with him like we used to. Oh those were the fun, fun times! I’m going to start on a diet this very day. I will be a positively different person by the time we get to our new home. Not one more bite of chocolate or nary a french fried potato will pass my lips till I’ve lost ten globby pounds of lumpy lard. And I’m going to make a completely new wardrobe. Who cares about Ridiculous Roger? Confidentially, Diary, I still care.”
No teenage girl has ever referred to her ex-boyfriend as “Ridiculous Roger,” nor immediately answered her own rhetorical question.
“The movie was fun with Scott. We went out after and I ate six wonderful, delicious, mouth-watering, delectable, heavenly french fries. That was really living in itself! I don’t feel about Scott like I used to about Roger. I guess that was my one and only true love, but I’m glad it’s over.”
Do you know who talks about french fries like that? Old ladies wearing sunglasses in birthday cards they sell at car wash gift stores, and Mormon therapists who write fake diaries by imaginary fifteen-year-olds.
“I keep thinking about our teacher in gym teaching us modern dance and always saying that it will make our bodies strong and healthy for childbearing, then she harps and harps that everything must be graceful, graceful, graceful.”
No one has ever suggested that modern dance is helpful practice for childbearing; if anyone did, exactly zero adolescent girls would listen to her.
“Dear precious Diary, I am baptizing you with my tears. I know we have to leave and that one day I will even have to leave my father and mother’s home and go into a home of my own. But ever I will take you with me.”
“And go into a home of my own.” “And diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”
“I wonder if I could go stick my finger down my throat and throw up after every meal?”
Teenagers don’t independently invent the concept of eating disorders in their journals. She would just call it bulimia.
“Lucy Martin is having a Christmas party, and I’m supposed to bring a gelatin salad.”
“I met another girl walking home from school. She lives just three blocks from us and her name is Beth Baum. She’s really awfully nice. She’s kind of shy too and prefers books to people just as I do. Her father is a doctor and away from home most of the time just like Dad, and her mother nags a lot but then I guess all mothers do. If they didn’t I’d hate to see what homes and yards and even the world would look like. Oh, I do hope I won’t have to be a nagging mother, but I guess I’ll have to be, else I don’t see how anything will ever be accomplished.”
“I say, aren’t you fellow school-teen Anonymous?”
“I am! And your full name is?”
“Beth Baum. Which do you prefer, books or people?”
“Books, much as you do. To what degree does your mother nag?”
“As much as we all will, till the world burns.”
“Even so, co-human. Even so.”
“Boy, Mom would be proud of my thinking and attitude today. It’s just too bad we can’t communicate anymore. I remember being able to talk to her when I was little but it’s as though we speak a different language now and the meanings just don’t come across the right way. She means something and I take it another way or she says something and I think she’s trying to correct me or “uplift” me or preach at me and I really suspect she isn’t doing that at all, just groping and being as lost with words as am I. That’s life, I guess.”
No teenager has ever thought this fairly and objectively about her own mother. Their brains just aren’t ready for it.
“We even talk a lot about religion. The Jewish Hebrew faith is a lot different than ours. They have their meetings on Saturday and they are still looking for Christ or the Messiah to come. Beth loves her grandparents a lot and she wants me to meet them. She says they are Orthodox and eat meat off one set of plates and milk things off another set of plates. I wish I knew more about my own religion so I could tell Beth.”
“As a Jewish Hebrew, I look forward to the day when Christ or the Messiah comes, either one, both are great. Pass the milk things, please.”
“I’m going to wear my new white pants suit, and I have to go now and wash my hair and put it up.”
Not just her white pantsuit, nor even her white pant suit — her white pants suit.
“I had found the perfect and true and original language, used by Adam and Eve, but when I tried to explain, the words I used had little to do with my thinking. I was losing it, it was slipping out of my grasp, this wonderful and priceless and true thing which must be saved for posterity. I felt terrible, and finally I couldn’t talk at all and slumped back onto the floor, closed my eyes and the music began to absorb me physically. I could smell it and touch it and feel it as well as hear it. Never had anything ever been so beautiful. I was a part of every single instrument, literally a part. Each note had a character, shape and color all its very own and seemed to be entirely separate from the rest of the score so that I could consider its relationship to the whole composition, before the next note sounded. My mind possessed the wisdoms of the ages, and there were no words adequate to describe them.”
…This is barely how drugs feel. It’s a little bit like Nation of Islam, though.
“It’s been like, wow—the greatest thing that has ever happened. Remember I told you I had a date with Bill? Well he introduced me to torpedos on Friday and Speed on Sunday. They are both like riding shooting stars through the Milky Way, only a million, trillion times better. The Speed was a little scary at first because Bill had to inject it right into my arm.”
She has snorted speed maybe twice and she’s already graduated to needles. Because they’re so inexpensive and readily available.
“I’m so, so, so, so, so curious, I simply can’t wait to try pot, only once, I promise! I simply have to see if it’s everything that it’s cracked up not to be! All the things I’ve heard about LSD were obviously written by uninformed, ignorant people like my parents who obviously don’t know what they’re talking about; maybe pot is the same.”
At this point, we are expected to believe that even a single human being has tried the following drugs, in the following order:
- Various “uppers and downers”
- Injected speed
Marijuana is a gateway drug, not the last drug you try after you’ve done everything else.
“All my life I’ve thought that the first time I had sex with someone it would be something special, and maybe even painful, but it turned out to be just part of the brilliant, freaky, way-out, forever pattern. I hadn’t thought about being pregnant before. Can it happen the first time? Will Bill marry me if I am or will he just think I’m an easy little dum-dum who makes it with everyone? Of course he won’t marry me, he’s only fifteen years old. I guess I’ll just have to have an abortion or something.”
“I must talk to someone. I must find someone who understands about drugs and talk to them.”
“We never get tired and she and I are two of the most popular girls at school, I know I look great, I’m still down at 103 pounds, and every time I get hungry or tired I just pop a Benny. We’ve got energy and vitality to spare, and clothes, like man. My hair is the greatest. I wash it in mayonnaise and it’s shining and soft enough to make anyone turn on.”
I realize we live in an anti-shampoo society, and that women nowadays love nothing more than throwing away perfectly good shampoo in favor of pushing baking powder and various kitchen solvents into their scalp, but I refuse to believe that any woman has ever washed her entire hair in pure and unadulterated mayonnaise.
“School kids are one thing and even the junior high, but today I sold ten stamps of LSD to a little kid at the grade school who was not even nine years old, I’m sure. I know that he in turn must be pushing and these kids are just too young! The thought of nine and ten year olds getting wasted is so repulsive that I’m not going over there any more! I know if they want it they’ll get it somewhere but they won’t get it from me!”
Call me old-fashioned — call me naïve — but I cannot bring myself to believe that even in the 1970s the price of LSD was so low that nine-year-olds could afford to buy it during recess.
“But just before I was too out of it to notice what was going on, I saw Sheila and that cocksucker she goes with lighting up and setting out Speed. I remember wondering why were they getting high when they had just set us out on this wonderful low, and it wasn’t until later I realized that the dirty sonsofbitches had taken turns raping us and treating us sadistically and brutally. That had been their planned strategy all along, the low-class shit eaters.”
All implausible, but the phrase “low-class shit eaters” is perhaps the least plausible of all.
“Adolescents have a very rocky insecure time. Grown-ups treat them like children and yet expect them to act like adults. They give them orders like little animals, then expect them to react like mature, and always rational, self-assured persons of legal stature. It is a difficult, lost, vacillating time.”
This is a line from a Deborah Tannen book, I am sure of it.
“I don’t know what or when or where or who it is! I only know that I am now a priestess of Satan trying to maintain after a freak-out to test how free everybody was and to take our vows.”
“Another day, another blow job. The fuzz has clamped down till the town is mother dry.”
“The kids have really started hassling me. Twice today Jan banged into me in the hall and called me Nancy Nice and Mary Pure. I was walking home from the store and a carload of kids pulled up beside me and began shouting things like:
‘Well, if it isn’t easy lay, Mary Pure.’
‘No, it’s Miss Fink Mouth.’
‘Miss Super Fink Mouth. Miss Double Triple Fink Mouth.’
Surely they wouldn’t pick on me so unmercifully if it weren’t for drugs. Would they?”
Heroin dealers. Vicious, deranged, LSD-addled, homicidal heroin dealers, and the worst insults they can think of are “Mary Pure” and “Miss Double Triple Fink Mouth.”
“Anyway last spring, he and three of his buddies heard about sniffing glue and thought it sounded exciting so they bought a couple of tubes and tried it.”
No one in this book just drinks beer. Didn’t you mostly just drink beer in high school?
“I used to think I would get another diary after you are filled, or even that I would keep a diary or journal through my whole life. But now I don’t really think I will. Diaries are great when you’re young. In fact, you saved my sanity a hundred, thousand, million times. But I think when a person gets older she should be able to discuss her problems and thoughts with other people, instead of just with another part of herself as you have been to me. Don’t you agree? I hope so, for you are my dearest friend and I shall thank you always for sharing my tears and heartaches and my struggles and strifes, and my joys and happinesses. It’s all been good in its own special way, I guess. See ya.
The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.
Her parents came home from a movie and found her dead. They called the police and the hospital but there was nothing anyone could do.
Was it an accidental overdose? A premeditated overdose? No one knows, and in some ways that question isn’t important. What must be of concern is that she died, and that she was only one of thousands of drug deaths that year.”
I feel like that question is important, but let us leave that aside for now. I will not contest the fact that thousands of people die as a result of drug use every year, only that no human person ever fell into drug addiction by way of gelatin salad and secret LSD and the Satanic priesthood.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.