I read Go Ask Alice forty years ago and as a diarist myself I enjoyed peeking into the private world of another teen. My own strong sense of living clean steered me clear of drugs so the diary did not influence me as a moralistic horror story to just say no. Only after I read Alice’s diary did I start doing my own research and discovered that the entire diary was a hoax. I have been interested in the real story behind Go Ask Alice for decades, and was immediately drawn to the new library acquisition Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson.
Emerson exposed the truth behind the alleged diary’s real author and while the secret had been out for decades, his exposé revealed more about the background of Beatrice Sparks and her motivation to swindle the public. Emerson painted Sparks as a wannabe author driven to achieve the heights of fame and if she fudged the truth to get there, so what? As long as her “anonymous” works were serving their purpose of educating people about the evils of drug use or Satan worship, then her ends would justify the means:
“Sparks was a walking correction. When she talked about the dead girl, dates and details shifted, almost at random. Alice died in May, but sometimes November. Alice gave Sparks the diary, except when her parents did it. Sparks occasionally mentioned ‘interview tapes’ she’d made with Alice, but nobody ever heard them.”
The publishers, who believed the story that Go Ask Alice was based on a genuine diary Sparks had acquired through her dubious claim as a youth counsellor, thought that the book would have more of an impact if it was marketed without her name on it. Teens would be more likely to buy the book if it presented itself as a work created without the intervention of adults, whether they were editors or mail-order PhD’s (as she was). So her books were bestsellers and are still in print and for the rest of her life Sparks remained ticked off that fame eluded her and no one knew who she was.
The Satanic Panic in the title refers to the second diary Sparks acquired, from a real teen named Alden Barrett who died by suicide. In this case Sparks did borrow Barrett’s actual journal, yet created a faux diary (which was published under the name Jay’s Journal) about his obsession with satanism. Barrett was not a satanist yet Sparks linked his suicide to the occult. Jay’s Journal was a complete fabrication created as a cautionary tale to warn teens and their parents about the evil found in Ouija boards, tarot cards, black magic and so on. Sparks would later write other diaries, all supposedly based upon the youth she counselled in her nonexistent practice, to warn teens of premarital sex and pregnancy, STD’s, and running away from home, among other topics. They all shared the common thread of being diaries she obtained from her clients. That sounds too convenient to be true and critics wondered just how she was able to get her hands on yet another diary–which reads exactly the same as all the others.
Emerson did his research, interviewing members of the Barrett family and uncovering documentation to refute the existence of Alice’s diary, but he did find who could very well be the real-life inspiration for Alice.
Unmask Alice was a rapid read, not only because I was enthralled with the subject matter, but on account of its layout: short chapters and multiple sections within each chapter. Thus there was always time to read a bit extra as I am loathe to start reading a new chapter if I know I will have to stop reading within a few minutes. Emerson explained why he avoided including endnotes within the body of text yet the few that he did include I found to be trivial and in some cases snarky, two reasons which should not warrant the need for them in the first place.
The faux diary, Go Ask Alice. I kept a copy in my personal collection after I read it as my library often received it as an unwanted donation.