Go Ask Alice

by Anonymous

Reviewed by Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: 13 and Up, but seriously don’t give it to younger kids, not even the ones you think are mature for their age, they don’t need to deal with this yet, and thirteen might even be pushing it. 

One Word Summary: Engrossing.

This is one of those books that will rise and fall in opinion as the times change. A gripping and chilling window into addiction, Go Ask Alice, now infamous, is the allegedly real diary of at fifteen-year-old girl who falls down the rabbit hole, as the title implies. Slipped LSD without her knowing, the unnamed narrator is

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instantly hooked and goes from nice white suburban girl to raging-hippy-stoner-high-school-drop-out-runaway-rape-victim-lunatic in a matter of pages. The validity of the first page’s suggestion that this book has been compiled from a real person’s diary has been challenged over the years, and on the publisher’s page of the newer additions it’s now listed as a work of fiction.

I’m of two minds as to whether or not it’s relevant if this is a real diary or completely invented. To be sure, it feels real and I read it in a whirl-wind couple of hours where I was completely lost and horrified in the world of the narrator, and even had trouble sleeping over it. The account is grizzly, mostly for its blunt brevity, and the scenes that are mentioned yet not depicted. The diary entry format lends a lot to this book, as not only are you given just the first-person perspective, but you’re limited further to only the parts of the story that the narrator wants to share. The dates of each entry provided a haunting key into what’s really going on, when you realize weeks sometimes pass between

entries, and most frighteningly, when in place of a date there drifts a bleak question mark. The book will probably be most impactful to those of us who have vivid and unwieldy imaginations, ready to fill in the gaps with the most terrifying scenes of depravity and abuse possible.

But if you find yourself hung up on the question ‘Is this real?’ you may have trouble stomaching Alice. If it is a work of pure fiction then it’s fair to criticize it as the most bald-faced, Hall of Fame worthy anti-drug propaganda of all time. Even I, who was willing to believe this was real, was dubious of how fast the narrator fell, and assumed the hippy lifestyle that has now become a stereotype. Gasp! She’s ironing her hair and wearing fringed vests and moving to San Francisco! Trouble’s afoot! But I would challenge that stereotypes do come from truth often, and this book was first published in 1971, when those characteristics did tend to indicate that a person was involved with the drug scene. I’m just sayin’.

Perhaps I’m biased, because as it just so happens, something like this actually did happen to one of my own friends in high school. Not to the letter, but certainly to the extremity. My friend found a salvation that Alice’s narrator does not, but this personal experience helps me see a truth in this account, and I found myself caring for the narrator, who shows life, hope, and touching vulnerability throughout. This was a book unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I recommend it, not as a the stern warning against experimentation with drugs, as it’s so often used now, but as a beautiful and disturbing record of the alienation of teen-hood and the riveting power of the first person perspective in literature. Don’t start reading this just before bed, you’ll be up all night.


© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012

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