All over the blogosphere, bloggers are taking today to write about their favorite banned books, so we are joining in! My favorite banned book to reread EVERY 6 months is, of course, Harry Potter (and the Goblet of Fire if I must choose only one from the series). However, I’m going to write about a different favorite of mine, because, truth be told, Harry Potter didn’t abruptly change my life and way of thinking as completely as Go Ask Alice did.
Go Ask Alice is a young girl’s diary – published anonymously by her parents after her death (There is some debate about the book’s authenticity and authorship… but who cares?). It respectfully chronicles loneliness, fear, social pressure, and the heart-longings of teenagerdom that frequently meet with condescension from adults who would minimize the struggles of youth. The book follows the speaker through a difficult move to a new town, friendships and loss of friendships, drug abuse, lost virginity, life on the streets, rape, and death, and it forever changed the way I think about all of those things.
For my entire life, I’ve struggled with judgment. I’m sort of a jerk. I like to compare myself with other people, so that I can look down on them and know that I’m somehow okay. I know. It’s not something I’m proud of, but there is and always has been a part of me that wants other people to do stupid things so that I will look better standing next to them. In high school, in particular, I had a lot going for me. I was softball hero, brilliant AP student, member of National Honor Society, and all-around nice girl – or at least that’s what it looked like on the outside, and the outside was all that mattered. With a list of credentials like that, I felt completely justified in looking down on those students who didn’t succeed in classes, used drugs, slept around, or broke any of the “rules”.
Go Ask Alice changed that.
The speaker of the book, “Alice”, was normal. She was the kind of girl who was self-conscious about her weight, wanted boys to notice her, felt misunderstood by her parents, and wrote. To be honest, she was my kind of girl. Behind my facade of perfection, I was the lonely journaler of that book, and I related to her from the very first page. I even continued to relate to her after she started using drugs. Of course I’d never used drugs, but because of “Alice”, my drug-addicted classmates seemed more human… in reality, I was the one who’d become more human.
Near the end of the book, “Alice” decides to leave drugs behind, and when I read that, I cheered inside. I’d wept through her time living on the streets, journeyed with her through pain and numbness, I’d empathisized for the first time in my life… and both “Alice” and I were ready for the next pages of life because they surely held something wonderful. I followed “Alice” back to school and struggled with her to return to the straight and narrow. Walking the hallways was different, now, though. “Alice’s” friends – those people who have more power in a girls’ life than we can ever calculate – weren’t so keen on the changes she was making. They tormented her in as many ways as they could think of and I hated them for it. It hadn’t occurred to me that the obstacles my peers were facing weren’t all within their control. People who are supposed to love and protect often place obstacles in our paths (sometimes intentionally, as was the case with “Alice”). Friends, neighbors, parents, priests, relatives, coaches and any number of others pour bits of themselves into our lives. Sometimes they pour out wisdom and love into , and other times they pour out depravity and selfishness. One of “Alice’s” relapses was actually caused by a friend who snuck a brownie into her locker without her knowledge that she unfortunately ate. The result was that she was forced to undergo treatment for her “relapse”.
Go Ask Alice is certainly filled with delicate topics that aren’t appropriate for all readers. Yet it forced me to look at people with new eyes – gentler, humbler eyes. It’s been censored in various places since the 70s, and made it all the way to number 6 (in 2003, which interestingly enough is also the year I read it) on the list of most frequently challenged books. I can’t even guess how long I’d have gone on in conceit without it, and so I celebrate the lasting impact it’s had on my life, and encourage others to read it as well.