I recently read that Go Ask Alice, the 1971 tale of drug experimentation gone horrifically awry, has once again been banned. This time the ban was in the Berkeley County school district in South Carolina. It occurred, “After a parent complained about her 13-year-old daughter having to read explicit curse words and sexual language out loud in class.”
This is nothing new. Alice has been banned for similar reasons since its publication 37 years ago.
To be sure, Go Ask Alice is full of sex, drugs, cursing and all those other tantalizing tidbits that grabbed my attention when I first discovered it in sixth grade. But if there is any reason to ban Alice, it’s not because children can’t handle such a gritty slice of real life, but rather because the book is not about real life at all.
In the book, the narrator spirals out of control after getting slipped LSD. Within days she has taken her first puff of marijuana, and almost overnight she is shooting, then selling, drugs and supporting her habit with prostitution. A graphic rape, psychosis and long suffering parents also feature heavily before the narrator dies of an overdose a few short months after the book begins.
Teachers who read Alice in their classes are often willing to overlook the rough edges because they feel that the anti-drug message outweighs the book’s explicitness. They are also often willing to overlook the book’s credibility.
In reality, Alice is not the diary of a troubled teen. It’s a partially or wholly made-up scare tactic, created by the woman listed as the book’s editor.
Yet many educators pass it off as fact and Alice is often listed by retailers as non-fiction. For example, Sundance Publishing, which provides a Go Ask Alice resource book for teachers, calls Alice, “A true and painful diary of a fifteen-year-old girl’s experiences with drugs that eventually lead to her death.”
Have you read Go Ask Alice in class? Did you know it wasn’t an authentic diary? Do you think it matters whether it’s real or fake?