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go ask alice, revisited

Inspired by this post of Emily’s, I decided to pick up a copy of Go Ask Alice. I first read this book when I was about 12, I’m sure I read it a dozen times at least.

For those who don’t know of it, Go Ask Alice is the purported diary of a teenage girl in the 70’s who becomes mixed up in the sordid world of drugs, sex and whatever else the dirty hippies of the times did. It is written by Anonymous, but apparently I missed the whole controversy where Anonymous allegedly turns out to be a real person, that real person not being a teenaged girl named Alice.

As has been mentioned over the years, I did plenty of drugs when I was a teenager. By the time I read this book in 1974 or so, I had already experimented with pot and alcohol, but hadn’t tried anything else, so I found the “diary” to be fascinating, if not a cautionary tale about getting involved in anything harder. But we all know how deaf the ears of a teenager can be when receiving words of caution.

When I started to read the book last week, a flash of memories came back. It’s almost as if the words were embedded in my head, I read it so many times when I was a kid. I remembered where I was when I read it for the first time, what I was wearing when I loaned the book to Gloria, the overwhelming feeling of guilt when my guidance counselor chastised me for reading such filth, and the pity I felt for the anonymous girl who went through such harrowing times.

As I got deeper into the book (it took me all of two days of sporadic reading to finish), I was astonished at how transparent the falsity of the book is. At 12, I wouldn’t have known what I know now in order to see how much of it is outright anti-drug propaganda, but how could I have not seen past the phrasing, the use of words that no 14 year old girl would ever have used, the awkward structure of sentences that would have been more appropriate coming out of the mouth of a Victorian adult? Was I so enthralled at getting a glimpse into the world of the counterculture that everything that rings false now passed me by then?

Over 30 years later, Go Ask Alice reads like the Scared Straight of novels. It’s an early form of one of those anti-smoking commercials, the kind that are so filled with blatant propaganda that they almost make you want to go out and smoke on spite. It’s as if the true author almost wanted to entice her young readers into thinking drugs are groovy (the diarist has many wonderful experiences with drugs before things get bad) and then smack you in the face with images of death and despair and so many hyperbolic, over the top scenarios that I’m nearly ashamed of my younger self for thinking this crap was in any way true. The author’s tendency to write about the girl’s experiences as if she got all her information from the same people who wrote Reefer Madness is infuriating, to say the least. It’s obvious she’s trying to send a message, but her message is mixed, at best.

You really need to read Emily’s post on this because she covers every ridiculous lie within the book. She sums it up with “I read this book when I barely knew what drugs were and it hardly frightened me away. If you want further proof, don’t ask Alice, ask me and countless other people who don’t have to make our stories up.” Precisely.

If anything, it was an interesting experience to read something I found so profound when I was a teenager, and it inspired me to pick up some other favorite books from my youth to see if I still feel the same way about them. So far on my list are The Outsiders and Brave New World (which my daughter just read for her English class and loathed).

Have you re-read any books from your misspent youth? What were your favorites as a teenager? I’d like to do a whole series on reading the books I loved when I was younger and how different (or the same) they appear through an adult brain (or close facsimile thereof).

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book talk

I did finish Harry Potter but I don’t feel like writing a whole review of it. For a real in depth review, see here.

I was mostly satisfied with the way things turned out. I’m not sad to see the stories end; I think it ran its course and adding any more chapters to it would have been unnecessary. However, I do think the epilogue was cheesy and trite. I don’t like that she wrapped everything up in such a neat little package. I would have preferred to been left wondering what happened to everyone than to have it laid out for me in what seemed like a hokey and forced manner.

Oh, and one of the predictions I made at the end of the previous book was right! I won’t discuss it in full though, because I know some of you have not finished reading it yet.

Now that that’s over, I started in on JPod by Douglas Coupland. Enjoying it so far, which is not a surprise, as I’ve enjoyed all his books.

I also finished Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (for the third or fourth time, I lost count), and I’m looking forward to the movie version.

My son is reading A Separate Peace (required, not by choice). His other choice was Jack London’s White Fang and I had this conversation with a bitchy little woman in the bookstore regarding my choice:

Her: What are you looking for?
Me (rattling off the summer reading list): Annie, A Separate Peace, White Fang…
Her: Boy or girl? What grade?
Me: Ninth grade boy/
Her (all haughty): Forget Annie. That’s for girls.
Me: Ok…then I’ll get A Separate Peace.
Her (rolling eyes): Please. Every boy wants to read Jack London.
Me: Not my boy.
Her: I’ll have you know White Fang is what got me reading. It made me what I am today.
Me (to myself, not out loud): An obnoxious book store clerk?
Me: (out loud): I think he’d rather read A Separate Peace.
Her: Then you don’t know your son so well. Boys want Jack London.
Me: Jack London is boring.
Her: What?? (she looks at me with such utter disdain I almost laugh. I notice she looks like a disgruntled weasel)
Me: I’ll get the other book myself, thanks.

She follows me to where there is a display of summer reading books. She picks up A Separate Peace before I can.

Her: Is your son a reader?
Me: Not so much.
Her: Then he’ll hate this.
Me: Trust me, he’ll hate Jack London more.
Her: But this takes place during WWII, I don’t think he’ll….
Me: Great. I’ll take it. He loves WWII.
Her: But….it’s not about the war….he’d much rather read White Fang….Jack London….
Me: Thanks for your help.
Her: Whatever.

And she slams the copy of White Fang down on the table and walks away.

My son better damn well LOVE A Separate Peace just so I can go back to the bookstore and shove it in that weasel’s face.

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