Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Teen/YA Fiction: Go Ask Alice

I must be the only the person on earth who was a teen in the 70's and never read Go Ask Alice, the anonymous account of a teen girl who becomes addicted to drugs, but it's true. I recently picked up the audio version of the famous book at the library and listened to it for the first time during several car trips.

I was stunned by the power and emotional impact of this story, as I suppose many people have responded to it since it was first published in 1971. So, I was equally stunned and sorely disappointed to discover that it is now widely assumed to be a work of fiction. I just finished reading a summary of Go Ask Alice on, the go-to place on the web for debunking urban legends. I was crushed to find out that the book is not the real-life diary of a teen, as it is presented.

I do tend to be gullible in these sorts of things, mainly because I'm an optimist and idealist; I just want to believe that people are incapable of deception, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary! I tend to take things at face value.

However, while this particular deception is disappointing to me, it doesn't change my opinion of the book overall. I found much of the "diary" to be quite realistic, even reminiscent of my own high school journals, especially in the way that the narrator vacillated between cheerful optimism and dark despondency. Isn't that the essence of being a teen?

Perhaps the format I chose impacted my experience as well. Maybe the diary entries would have seemed less real if I were reading them rather than listening. The young narrator of the audio book did a great job expressing the highs and lows of the teen's high school life and her shame at her descent into drug addiction. When she talked, in a low monotone, about the horrible things that happened to her while she was high and living on the streets, my heart broke for her, and when she was back with her family and happily trying to put her life together, I cheered for her.

Despite its controversies and deception, Go Ask Alice remains a touching and disturbing portrait of how drug addiction can destroy the life of a smart, sweet young girl. Certainly, even if this account is fiction, the things that happen in the book do indeed happen to real people. I think all teens (and all parents) should read this book. It affected me deeply.


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