Good old James Frey is back in the news. Apparently, he’s written a novel and he’s once again sorry for lying about his faux memoir A Million Little Pieces. I still have on my DVR when Oprah raked him over the coals for lying, then she got mad at Nan Talese his editor who was defending him while he looked at the floor like a kid who got in trouble and Nan Talese was his mom and Oprah was the principal. I hadn’t read Million Little Pieces so I wasn’t really upset by the whole deal, plus in interviews with Frey he sounded like he had a huge Ego with a capital E. But it got me to thinking of a book I did get upset about when it turned out it wasn’t what it claimed to be.
When I was fifteen, I read Go Ask Alice. It was about a teenage girl whose family just moved to a new town and she has to meet new friends, go to a new school, worrying about her weight. Then one day visiting her hometown, she gets invited to a party. Oh, happy day! She goes to the party, everyone is swell, and they play a game called “Button button, who’s got the button?” with Coke bottles. The Diarist “wins” with the fact that the Coke is spiked with LSD.
It all goes downhill from there. She starts to smoke pot, taking uppers and downers, and having sex. She tries to go off them when she goes back home, but it doesn’t work out and she ends up running away twice, getting raped, trying out heroin, finally getting helped by a priest. She tries to go straight, but the odds are against her when she turns someone in after she scares a baby the Diarist was taking care of and to get even they-you guessed it-coated chocolate covered peanuts she found with LSD. This time she goes to a hospital, gets help, and then it looks like she’s going to be happy.
But no! The last page says this:
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 one of thousands of drug deaths that year.
Go Ask Alice, 1971
Okay. Why did she have to die? The diarist wasn’t a bad person. She just did bad things. She loved her grandparents and wanted to lose weight. All she wanted was a boyfriend and to be loved. She didn’t deserve to die.
But then I remembered that this was a TRUE STORY. She really DIED. It proved to me that drugs were bad, they were evil. I should’ve been excused from the DARE assemblies and meetings I had to go to because I could’ve told them “Look, I’m never going to do drugs. I read Go Ask Alice.”
The book was eventually made into a TV-movie with newcomer Jamie Jackson Smith as Alice (they gave the Diarist a name) and featured a young Mackenzie Phillips as a baby hooker, Andy Griffith as a radical priest who helps Alice, and William Shatner and Julie Adams as the most clueless parents in the world who don’t get the fact that Alice and her friends are stoned when serving Alice her birthday cake and refuse to talk to her about her past drug use.
Years pass. One summer night I’m watching a DVD called How to Deal. They had a special section on young adult literature (the movie was based on two novels by Sarah Dessen) and they talked about the usual suspects: Nancy Drew, Judy Blume, and then they talked about how Go Ask Alice wasn’t a real story after all.
I sat up, thinking “What the hell! What do you mean Go Ask Alice wasn’t a true story? It said it was a true story! On the cover! You know that black cover with her eye! It was a damned true story!” I really handled it well.
I found out more. Beatrice Sparks, a doctor whose patients were drug addicts, said she wrote the diary with information from a patient’s diary and then added fictional elements. She lived in Utah and was a practicing Mormon. She then started to “find” other diaries: Jay’s Journal, the story of a runaway, Annie’s Baby, the story of a pregnant teenager, and It Happened to Nancy, the story of an HIV/AIDS victim.
I was just so mad. I truly cared about the Diarist, the person who I thought did die. The girl who loved her grandparents like I did. The girl who tried to get better but couldn’t. Of course it made sense it wasn’t a real diary, I remember reading it and thinking “Wow, she comes up with great metaphors even when she’s stoned.” But still, I was mad.
I’m pretty much over it. What I do know is James Frey and Beatrice Sparks should go bowling sometime and compare notes. Dr. Sparks is ninety now, and I wonder if James Frey at ninety will be known as the “Guy Who Wrote the Fake Memoir.” I also know that Go Ask Alice still affects people (there’s several tribute videos on YouTube). There might’ve not been a real Alice, but like the Alice in the song, the diarist encouraged people to feed their heads with the words she put down. But the salt in the wound is the fact it is Beatrice Sparks’ words, not the diarist’s. And Oprah isn’t going to interrogate a ninety year old woman anytime soon.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries