Down The Rabbit Hole

As an assignment in my Adolescent Literature class, I had to post on our class blog about a frequently challenged book in the YA genre. I chose Go Ask Alice, and having never read it before, I was excited to see what all the hype was about. After reading it, I can't say that it was my favorite book, but I definitely enjoyed writing the post about it. I enjoyed it so much actually, that I wanted to share it with you guys.

Down The Rabbit Hole

“After you’ve had it, there isn’t even a life without drugs” (Sparks 96).

Published in 1971, Go Ask Alice is the purported diary of an unnamed teenager growing up in the late 1960’s who deals with drug use, body issues, and sexual assault. While there are questions about the identity of the unnamed narrator, for convenience sake, I’ll refer to her as Alice. There is also much speculation about whether the diary is even legitimate. Though originally published by an anonymous author, Dr. Beatrice Sparks soon began to promote herself as the editor. This has lead many to believe Alice’s story is not a real one, but one of fiction.

Beatrice Sparks
After moving to a new town after her father accepts a position at a different university, Alice finds that she doesn’t fit in as easily as she did at her old school. Unlike her younger brother and sister, she can’t seem to adjust to her new life. After a few months as an outcast, she does make one friend, Beth, a nice Jewish girl from her neighborhood. Left alone when Beth leaves for summer camp, Alice decides to return to her hometown and stay with her grandparents. While at a party with former schoolmates, she is unknowingly given a drink spiked with LSD, which begins the downward spiral of her drug use. Within days of her first acid trip, she is yearning for more. Eventually, she can no longer control her urges and becomes a full-blown drug addict, dabbling in every illicit drug she can get her hands on. Alice even goes so far as to sell her own body in exchange for her next high. Over the course of the next year, Alice’s diary entries show a rollercoaster of good and bad decisions until it seems she finally has her life together; however, events like her grandparents deaths pull her back in to the life of drugs. After months of being sober, Alice seems to have proved she can turn her life around once and for all. Unfortunately, in the epilogue we learn that this is not the case. She dies of a drug overdose, though no one can confirm if it was accidental or intentional.

Go Ask Alice, though written in a time when the Young Adult novel was barely an idea, deals with many themes that are still prevalent in today’s YA literature. Alice, like many teens, feels alone and has communication issues with her parents. Feeling like the generation gap is too wide to bridge between herself and her parents, she believes that an open line of communication is not possible. Alice laments to her diary, “…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” (Sparks 213). Throughout the course of the novel, Alice learns to open up this line of communication and begins to trust her parents enough to tell them of her fears and concerns. Eventually, she even lets them in on her struggle with fitting in at school and her drug addiction. Alice also struggles with her identity, which plays a significant role in her battle with drugs and eating issues. At the beginning of the novel, Alice is constantly talking poorly of herself regarding her looks and weight. She soon begins to eat very little, recounting on December 4th that she ate her “usual half grapefruit for breakfast,” until her mom made her eat “a slice of whole wheat bread and a scrambled egg and a piece of bacon” (10). She scolds herself for eating the additional calories, fearing she will no longer look like the other popular girls in school. This need to fit in is a recurring theme that is evident in her inner dialogue. At one point she states, “I’m partly somebody else trying to fit in and say the right things and do the right thing and be in the right place and wear what everybody else is wearing. Sometimes I think we’re all trying to be shadows of each other…” (11).

This world in which Alice exists, lives and breathes conformity, at least until she is introduced to the “hippie” culture. Surrounded by a group that is anti-authority, she uses this to fuel her pull her against her parents. At one point, she even states, “…I seem to be doing less and less right, I’m getting so that no matter what I do I can’t please the Establishment” (50). While the culture in which she lives is significantly different to the average teen’s life now, rebellion against parents and authority are still a fact of life. As Mark Oppenheimer points out, “Read more than a quarter-century later, the Vietnam-era themes seem quaint, and they are laughably written”; however, the message is still the same (Oppenheimer). Adolescents are taught to listen and respect their elders and Alice seems to almost never heed that advice, which leads to her eventual downfall. The underlying message to teens is to avoid the decisions Alice has made unless you want to follow the same road to death. Alice’s story is not just one of entertainment; it is a cautionary tale.

Go Ask Alice
While the novel is presented and marketed as a cautionary tale against drugs, schools, libraries, and parents across the United States did not see it that way. As Maddie Crum states, “Books advocating the use of drugs are, of course, frequently censored titles; but, even books that serve as warning signs against the dangers of drugs have been removed from school libraries” (“7 Reasons Your Favorite Books Were Banned”). The American Library Association has listed Go Ask Alice as being banned most commonly for its offensive language, scenes of drug use, and sexually explicit references. Within recent years, it has gained a spot on the Top Ten list of challenged books. It ranked at #6 in 2001 and made a short drop to #8 in 2003, proving that it is still viewed as controversial today (“Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century”). What schools, libraries, and parents fail to remember, however is that reading about drug use doesn’t mean that adolescents will suddenly become raging drug addicts. In other words, “Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code” (Gurdon).

Whether Alice is a real or fictional character, her story is one of millions of teens. Even the editors state in the epilogue, “What must be of concern is that she died, and that she was only one of thousands of drug deaths that year” (Sparks 214).  The fact that this novel has continued to draw controversy 43 years after it’s publication only confirms that Alice is doing her job of helping teens from falling down the rabbit hole.

Works Cited

“Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century.” Banned & Challenged Books. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Gurdon, Meghan Cox. "Darkness Too Visible." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 4 June 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Oppenheimer, Mark. "Just Say 'Uh-Oh'" The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Nov. 1998. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

Sparks, Beatrice, ed. Go Ask Alice. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1971. Print.

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