First published in 1971, Go Ask Alice was the YA phenomenon of its day, and features prominently on America’s Most Banned Books List. It’s the cautionary tale of a vulnerable teenager, lured into the heady world of the 1960’s counter culture. Even the squarest parents know what that means. Drugs, sex and general depravity must surely follow. Originally purporting to be the most sensational of real-life diaries, these days Go Ask Alice is viewed as a fictional and somewhat hysterical piece of anti-drugs propaganda.
Set in the summer of 1968, this re-issue (complete with groovy psychedelic cover) is a real time-capsule curio, a snapshot of conservative American paranoia in the late 60’s.
I simply can’t wait to try pot, only once I promise.
Our curious diarist, Anon, is never named. The Alice of the book title presumably refers to the lyrics of the brilliantly trippy 1967 Jefferson Airplane song, White Rabbit. Anon’s downfall begins when her drink is spiked with LSD at a party. She has an intensely beautiful experience, but despite telling the reader how ‘low-class, unclean and despicable’ the whole affair is, a mere ten days later she’s injecting speed.
Of course, it’s now a downward spiral for the poor girl. Selling pot to little kids and railing against the Establishment, it can only be a matter of time before she runs away to San Francisco (well, it is 1968). Unfortunately the place is full of lecherous bohemians and I hardly dare tell you what happens next.
The rapidity of Anon’s degradation is ludicrously unconvincing, and the writing manages to be both trite and lurid. I think today’s kids are way too sophisticated for this, although it would make an interesting YA book club choice, as a window into the growth of the 1960’s American counter culture, and the fear it induced in the conservative mainstream.
I didn’t dig it, but it’s worth a look.
Go Ask Alice is published by Arrow, 176 pages.