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September 7, 2010

Banned Books: Go Ask Alice

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Every day during September and through the end of Banned Books Week (October 2), Business & Heritage Clarksville will run commentary on at least one of the Top 100 Banned Books of the period 2000-2010.

When Go Ask Alice made its debut in 1971, it was both sensational and controversial. Go Ask Alice is reportedly the autobiography of a teenaged girl caught up in drug addiction; it is alluded to as a testament against drug use.The identity of the girl is never revealed; the book’s authenticity has been questioned for several decades, and publishers now describe it as a work of fiction. Its author, though still billed as “anonymous,” is believed to be Beatrice Sparks. The title is taken directly from the Jefferson Airplane/Grace Slick song “White Rabbit,” which in turn referenced Alice in Wonderland.

The Plot:

An unnamed fifteen-year-old records her thoughts and concerns about issues such as crushes, weight gain, sexuality, social acceptance, and difficulty relating to her parents. With a family move to a new town, Alice sees herself as an outcast, without friends. On a visit back home, Alice attends a party and imbibes soda laced with LSD, triggering a “pleasurable trip.” She tumbles into drug use and sexual promiscuity and fear pregnancy. She begins stealing pills, doing a variety of illegal drugs, and ultimate began dealing. Rape is almost an inevitable outcome of her new lifestyle; her downward spiral continues as she runs away,hitch-hiking drifting into prostitution, and finally — after a reunion with her family — is institutionalized. Freed from drugs, she anticipates a new life that is not to be. Three weeks into recovery, she overdoses and dies.

The book, born out of the cultural revolution of the late 60s, predates the computer age and global internet. Youngsters even with the best of supervision have access to all manner of graphic information and the curiosity to explore such world from the comfort of their home or a friend’s computer.

Go Ask Alice lays out tough, graphic realities of drug use and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It is not surprising that the book has been challenged on multiple levels, from its author to its purported reality. Yet even if it is fiction culled from a drug-laced netherworld, Go Ask Alice is a tool by which parents and educators can launch discussion about these all important issues.

Go Ask Alice includes profanity as well as relatively explicit references to runaways, drugs, sex, and rape, conservative parents and activists have sought to remove it from school libraries. Bans began almost as soon as the book was published in the early 1970s: Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1974, Saginaw, Michigan in 1975, and Eagle Pass, Texas and Trenton, New Jersey in 1977 sought removal from local libraries. Other libraries in New York (1975), Ogden, Utah (1979), and Florida (1982) required parental permission for a student to check out the book. Additional bans occurred in 1983 in Minnesota and Colorado, 1984 in Mississippi, and 1986 in Georgia and Michigan. Also, in 1993 in New Jersey and West Virginia, 1994 in Massachusetts, 1998 in Rhode Island, 2003 in Maine, and in Feruary 2007 Berkley County School District in South Carolina.

The American Library Association listed Go Ask Alice as number 23 on its list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. The book was number eight on the most challenged list in 2001 and up to number six in 2003. The dispute over the book’s authorship does not seem to have played any role in these censorship battles.

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