Who Is Alice?
by Pamela Brown
The novel, Go Ask Alice edited by Beatrice (Mathews) Sparks leaves one to ponder, “who is Alice?” Is she a real teen, a combination of many of Sparks’ clients, or is she just an updated version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland? This novel tells the reader they are reading the diary of an anonymous teenaged girl, but critics are skeptical. These questions are just a few of the many controversial questions surrounding the book, and are the few questions to be addressed here.
First, the editor Beatrice Sparks is the center of much debate. Sparks is a writer, who had her first book, Key to Happiness, published in 1967 after being a youth counselor for twelve years. Sparks states, “Since 1955 I have been working with kids who have problems. I have found them at Utah State Mental Hospital, at Brigham Young University, and at seminars and youth conferences.” Therefore, before the publication of the book, Sparks heard many stories which she would be able to draw from in order to create the characters and plots of her so-called diaries. One major flaw in Go Ask Alice is the insightfulness of this fifteen to seventeen year old. For instance, Alice writes in her diary, “But real friendship can’t be built on sympathy and a hanging-on to someone just to keep from drowning. It has to be built on mutual likes and abilities, and, yes, even backgrounds.” So, are these words the words of a teenager or the words of Sparks herself? Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that every single cliché about drug use happened to this one girl in such a short period of time. It is also unlikely that a drug user would be so elegant in her story telling or coherent enough the very next day to share such a vivid picture. Even more unusual is that the young girl remembers all of the events that happened while using the drugs. It seems that Sparks has taken many different stories from many different young drug users and piled them into one solitary young woman.
Second, it seems the title, Go Ask Alice has come from the 1967 Jefferson Airplane song, “White Rabbit.” The song was in the minds of most teenagers in 1971 due to its popularity. Few people however, fail to look at the copyright page of the book, which states, “The title of Go Ask Alice taken from “White Rabbit,” written by Grace slick.” Not only is the title of the novel the same as the fifth line of the song, but also a few similarities between the song and the novel can be found. The song starts out with, “One pill makes you larger / And one pill makes you small / And the ones that mother gives you / Don’t do anything at all” (lines 1-4). Similarly, our protagonist, Alice divulges to her diary that doing drugs makes her feel uninhibited to the point that she danced around the room. It seems that this drug has made Alice feel large. Likewise, LSD has made Alice feel small. Although she feels she is part of everything, she could not hold on to the “true thing” she had found (Sparks, 32). Alice states that she “couldn’t talk at all and slumped back onto the floor” (Sparks, 33). Later Alice states the tranquilizers that her mother takes her to get do nothing for her. For a matter of fact, Alice writes that she must take two or three of the tranquilizers in order to feel any effect. Considering there are many similarities between the protagonist of the book and the Jefferson Airplane song, it was wise for Sparks to use Go Ask Alice as the title. The title helped the book draw attention, boost sales, and continue to attract readers.
Since the Alice in “White Rabbit” was based on Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is possible that Sparks’ Alice is based on the novel as well. It seems there are a few similarities between the two characters as well. In Carroll’s book, Alice states, “I wonder if I’ve changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different… Who in the world am I?” (10). Alice seems to be going through an identity crisis, which is a common feeling of many youngsters. Similarly, Sparks’ Alice seems to not be very secure in her identity. She writes, “Even now I’m not really sure which parts of myself are real and which parts are things I’ve gotten from books” (Sparks, 5). Interestingly enough, Sparks’ Alice compares herself to Carroll’s protagonist and questions whether or not it is possible that “Lewis G. Carroll was on drugs too” (36). Other similarities include Alice’s first time to be slipped LSD. She is at first frightened and thinks that she is being poisoned. Before Carroll’s Alice drinks from the first bottle, she inspects the bottle to make sure it is not poisoned. Both characters continue to follow along with the crowd so that they fit in. In addition, both characters have an undeniable need for companionship due to their loneliness. Toward the end of both books, the girls decide that they will share what they have learned with others. Carroll’s Alice decides she will tell her stories to her grandchildren, and Sparks’ Alice decides that she does not need her diary anymore. She feels if she ever needs to share her stories, thoughts, or experiences, she will be able to share them with her friends and family.
Regardless of the many similarities between the novels, as well as discrepancies in Go Ask Alice, the novel is appropriate for a young adult audience. Remembering back to the first time I read the novel, I thought I was reading a true story. Of course, I was part of the intended audience at that time. The novel helped me to understand that the drug scene was frightening, and not something that I wanted to be a part of. The protagonist is one that many young women can relate to. Like many women her age, Alice is having trouble finding her place in society. She makes some bad choices, and struggles with her family. Alice is an average student that did not set out to end up dieing at such a young age. So, again I ask who is Alice? There is a bit of Alice in all young women. The novel is packed full of stereotypical teenage problems that every female reader can relate to at one point or another. It is, however, important for everyone to remember Alice is a fictional character. The proof is given on the copyright page of the book, which states, “This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to the actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” This leads to another important question. If Go Ask Alice is fictitious, who is the author? Beatrice Sparks is the only person with the answer, and she is not telling. No matter who Alice is, though controversial, the book has been well received.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. New York: Bantam Dell, 1981.
Contemporary Authors Online. “Beatrice (Mathews) Sparks.” Thomson Gale. 2005.
Jefferson Airplane. “White Rabbit.” By Grace Slick. Surrealistic Pillow. Copper Penny Music. 1967.
Sparks, Beatrice. Ed. Go Ask Alice. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006.