Student Essay 3: In Search of Lost Time

Go Ask Alice: A Believable Diary About Drug Use

by Jean Gohn

At thirteen, I loved gymnastics and boys There was no time in my busy schedule for reading. However, I did make the exception for one book: Go Ask Alice, chiefly because my school had decided that we needed parental permission to borrow the book from the library. Of course, that might as well as have put it on the required reading list as far as I was concerned. "Alice" is the fifteen-year-old author of an anonymous diary, and she soon became my best friend. Last month, when I read this diary again, I was reminded why. Alice is a bright young girl from a middle class background who becomes involved in the powerful and frightening world of drugs. Even today, I found this authentic if still anonymous diary of a young girl and her confusions compelling and absorbing.

Alice's diary entries start off much like mine were when I was that age: frustration over crushes that I had on boys, wondering why my parents didn't understand me, how goofy I thought I looked, and so on. I found myself laughing over many of these torturous personal descriptions on being fat and having acne. Dieting was crucial for both Alice and myself, with endless declarations of intent. As Alice says on September 30:

I'm going to start on a diet this very day. I will be a positively different person by the time we get to our new home. Not one more bite of chocolate or nary a french fried potato will pass my lips till I've lost ten globby pounds of lumpy lard (p. 3).

I may have chuckled over many of these entries but it was painful to remember how much I hated my appearance and how critical it was to my self-esteem. But at least Alice understood, and that, I now remember, had made me feel better.

Alice also understood how terribly alone I felt at times. Her description of her first day at a new school (January 6) could have been written by me at that time:

Oh Diary it was miserable! It was the loneliest, coldest place in the world. Not one single person spoke to me during the whole endlessly long day (p. 13).

I now know that many teenage girls feel isolated and misunderstood, but at thirteen, I thought I was the only one. Until I read this book, that is. Alice's parents try to help her to adjust to their new home and this effort is recognized by Alice. Alice is sometimes grateful and sometimes she sees it as nagging. On April 20, at the end of her entry, Alice is troubled not only by her mother's nagging but also by her perfectly-adjusted little brother and sister:

I just simply can't measure up....I really do love Tim and Alex, but they've got plenty of faults too, and I find it difficult to decide whether I love them more than I hate them or whether I hate them more than I love them. This also applies to Mom and Dad! But truthfully I guess it applies even more to myself.

The similarities between these early entries and my own experiences during my teenage years, are almost endless. I too had siblings that always seem to do the right thing, while I had to suffer through endless comparisons.

These similarities made it easier for me to relate to Alice when her life took a dramatically different course than mine, a course which of course drew me in too, for I also remember being attracted to the wild adventures that Alice experiences. Soon after Alice moves to a new area, she falls into a tough crowd full of troubled teenagers. She unknowingly has a drug experience. This experience leads gradually to more drug use -- and sex. Although our lives were no longer as parallel, I felt that I could be looking into my future. I assumed that I would have tragedy and despair in my life, including events that would shock the world -- in that way just like Alice. This was much more appealing to me at thirteen than to be happy and well-adjusted. Alice's life provided an exciting escape from my dull perception of my life. I had a dramatic image of myself which also fit in with Alice's adventures of running away from home, drug trips, and sexual encounters of the wildest kind. I saw the drug world that Alice enters as exotic.

This is not the only side of Alice's life that is shown in the diary. Alice's parents are loving and they try to accept what Alice is and understand her. There is emphasis on how typically or ideally middle class this family was. Money, or lack of it, is never an issue. Alice's father has a steady job, and both of her parents seem willing to drop everything to help their children. Alice is herself a loving and attentive child, as this entry from one of her straight days shows:

May 1: Gramps had a stroke. It happened during the night, and Mom and Dad are flying out there today. They'll be gone when we're home from school. They are so sweet. They were more worried about leaving me more than anything else. I'm sure they know how lonely and frustrated I am and I'm sure they ache inside as I do about Gramps. I used to think I was the only one who felt things, but I really am only one infinitely small part of an aching humanity.

My family was not quite as typical or ideal as Alice's were, but they too meant to be loving and supportive. Alice's rebellion apparently has less to do with her parents than to her addiction to drugs and her perception of herself. The teenage years are confusing times without drugs, and the addition of drugs can be devastating. I experienced many of these same doubts in my adolescence, but the drug world that Alice enters was foreign to me at thirteen. As I mentioned, I did glamorize her life, but I also understood the finality of a wasted life. I remember crying when I read the Epilogue which calmly states:

The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.

Her parents came home from a movie and found her dead. They called the police and the hospital but there was nothing anyone could do.

Was it an accidental overdose? A premeditated overdose? No one knows, and in some ways that question isn't important. What must be of concern is that she died, and that she was only one of thousands of drug deaths that year (p.159).

Alice's death shocked me the first time I read this book. At that time I was sure that someone had put the drugs into her food or drink, as she had claimed they had done earlier. Today that does not seem as likely as the other alternatives that the editors mention. At thirteen, I couldn't understand Alice's sudden change of heart. As the book opened and again just before she died, Alice seemed so happy and full of life. Today I understand more about addiction and drugs, but this knowledge requires a more complicated picture of how people behave and what diaries are about than I had at thirteen.

I cannot honestly say that this book changed my life, or had a profound effect on my attitude. I was still a moody and sensitive girl, and I still loved gymnastics. And a few years after reading this book, I did experiment with drugs. Yet l do feel that this book had an impact on me. Alice's adventures are believable, and the consequences of them are dire and unromantic. I was startled to find that when I reread this diary how much I remembered in detail. Alice's experiences must have stayed with me, and they may have helped me to lose my fascination with victims and martyrdom. Perhaps it helps me to see such things more realistically.

This book had a powerful affect on many of its readers. Its credits include receiving the Christopher Award and being listed in the American Library Association's "Best Young Adult Books." I have been referring to the main character of this novel as Alice, but the title for this anonymous diary was actually taken from a song, "White Rabbit" by Grace Slick. This was a song was popular in the late sixties and early seventies; the title refers to both to Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and the popularity of drug use. The reasons and dangers of drug use have not changed much throughout the years; they will probably never disappear. Only the drugs themselves seem to change.

When researching this book it was difficult to find comments that pertained to this specific book because there are literally thousands of publications listed under Go Ask Alice that refer to teenage drug abuse and addiction. Most of the current publications address the long-standing debate over the legalization of marijuana, the so-called "war on drugs," and the policy-making of different political parties. Some of these solutions seem so complicated or impracticable, as in this one offered by Mark Kleiman in Against Excess:

[Kleiman] would treat some drugs as 'grudgingly tolerated vices' -- legalizing marijuana with a system of revocable personal licenses, combining high taxation and personal monitoring to reduce heavy alcohol consumption and phasing in' the prohibition of tobacco sales, except for 'registered nicotine addicts.' Outright prohibition would be a last resort, probably reserved for just the most dangerous of drugs, such as cocaine and heroine (p. 480).

At least Kleinman is trying to address realities and the actual behaviors of people. Unfortunately, many of "programs" fit into Linda Marsa's description in Omni:. We are a

a frustrated nation pushing solutions that, for the most part, haven't worked yet, never are never changed from cracking down on dealers and users and creating more educational programs to prevent or stop addiction, to bombing Bolivia, invading Columbia, and sealing the U.S.--Mexican border. Now George Bush wants to build more jail cells (p. 43).

Go Ask Alice may have been published to help with the recently-surfacing drug problems of the early seventies, but it does not offer any solutions. Instead it presents the problem through a simple diary of an apparently typical fifteen-year old girl whose life is lost to the drug world.

As an adult, I found this collection of diary entries unique because Alice does not have the family problems stereotypically associated teenage drug abuse. She is an intelligent and empathetic young woman struggling with many of the same issues that I struggled with as a teen. I can still identify with Alice, and this has reminded me not only of my experiences when I was a teen, but of how we are inundated with dramatic overinterpretations of life's events. This book's strength may still be felt by all young adult readers, whether they are in the midst of a teenager's confusions, or in those which plague us many years after that time.

Annotated Bibiography

  1. Anonymous. Go Ask Alice. (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Books For Young Readers).
    This collection of diary entries is based on the actual diary of a fifteen-year-old girl who becomes involved with drugs This diary chronicles her experiences with drugs, her rehabilitation relapses, insane asylum, and eventually her fatal overdose. This is the main source for this paper and contains many vivid examples of the struggles of a teenager and the complications of drug abuse during these years.
  2. Gordon, Diana. "Go Ask Alice...," The Nation, October 26, 1992
    This article contains a review of Mark Kleiman's novel, Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results. This review of Kleiman's 442 page book summarizes some of his theories about drug control. Kleiman emphasizes that to combat this problem real consumption patterns must be taken into account by laws. Kleiman considers many policy implications relating to specific drugs, including alcohol and nicotine. I cited one example of his suggestions to illustrate the originality of his prescriptions as an example of the variety of opinions being discussed in the media today.
  3. Marsa, Linda. "Go Ask Alice...," Omni," September, 1989.
    This article not only examines the problems with today's drug policies, it also relates these problems to real teenage drug use. Different popular drugs are examined according to their socioeconomic shifts in usage. This article also examines the reasons teenagers begin using drugs and suggests that it is not due what is popular assumed, i.e., peer pressure. Consequently, Marsa argues that the "Just Say No" campaign is misguided. This article advises that drugs must be "depoliticized," and attacks many of the recent policies. The example that I cited from this article depicts the frustation I feel when I read about the different punitive and unrealistic policies of the past few years at the state and federal level of government and in privately-funded agencies.

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