Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous (1971)

The novel, Go Ask Alice, claims to be based on the diary of a real life teenage girl. Whether this claim is true or not, the novel, written in the form of diary entries, is a harrowing look at the way drugs destroy one girl's life. The book has a clear objective in mind: to scare teenagers readers from using drugs. And the editors seem to have a pretty good idea of how to convince teens without being pedantic. Its portrayal of drugs is realistic and gritty, and the book pulls no punches. Teenagers will find a protagonist they can relate to, and a tone that avoids being preachy. A book like this can be important for some teens to read; it's not every parent who talks honestly about drugs with their kids.

The protagonist of the story does not appear to have a name. Her story begins sweetly. She has a nice family. Two parents and two siblings, a brother and a sister, both younger than her. Her family is well-off. She has the usual conflicts: she hates her parents' rules and she's got some boy troubles. When her family moves to another state she thinks things will improve, except she has a hard time making new friends. Over the summer she returns home to stay with her grandparents, which is not as fun as she imagined, and then some old friends invite her to a party, where somebody slips her LSD. She has the night of her life, and she can't wait to have LSD again. In fact, she wants to experiment with more drugs. And when she returns home she seeks out friends who can help her get drugs. Soon her life revolves around drugs, and at another key moment in the novel she runs off with a friend to Los Angeles. I will say no more about the plot.

The novel begins a little slow, and it's not until the protagonist starts trying drugs that it picks up. The early diary entries are stiff and sound more like a Victorian age girl than a girl from the 1970s. They have the feel of an adult writing with a purpose rather than a real girl writing real diary entries. Once she starts talking about her newly acquired drug habits, the book becomes much more compelling and seems to offer a better glimpse into the mind of a teenage girl. There are moments when she realizes she should stop using drugs, but her body aches for them.

In the middle sections the novel's tone changes dramatically, as though to show how drugs have altered her personality. There is much more profanity, as well as controversial scenes involving sex and graphic drug use. The novel has been on the most challenged book list for the past 40 years, making number 18 on the list in just this past decade. The drugs, profanity, and sex are the major reasons for its being challenged, though there are also objections to the fact the girl is a runaway. I think many parents are worried their children will emulate the behavior they see in the book, and some simply don't want their kids exposed to its ideas or content.

I believe most kids are smart enough to realize the book's purpose is not to make drugs seem like a good time, but to show teenagers the consequences of drug use. In order to effectively do that, sometimes it's best to expose teens to the real dangers. Most teens have likely encountered drugs anyway, without the knowledge of their parents, and if a majority of their friends say they're cool, teens are more likely to use them, no matter what their parents say. It's easier, but much less effective, for an adult to simply tell their kids to say no to drugs, but Go Ask Alice shows them why they should say no.

This is not for the light of heart, but I'd recommend it for teenagers and adults.

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