Apr 14, 2012

Young Adult Literature: The Class (Day 9)

"It's so phony! Holden Caufield would hate this shit!"

Spoilers ahead for Go Ask Alice.

Oh, Go Ask Alice. My personal opinion aside, you made for quite an interesting class discussion.

Class kicked off with the discussion of the stereotypical "problem novel." Influenced by the 60s and 70s counter-culture movement, the problem novel would take one novel and focus on just that as the point of the novel.

"Characters had problems, but the problems were not the characters... the problems become the character. The themes become the tail that wags the dog."

We talked about Sheila Egoff, some random professional person, and her thoughts on problem novels. According to Egoff, problem novels are strongly subject oriented with an interest in topics over the story-telling. The themes tend to be "adult-oreinted," like drugs, divorce, death and more.

Like we couldn't have figured that out.

But then we talked about why people read problem novels, and we couldn't really come to a conclusion.

"It's like a car accident... people have to take a look."
"It's a twisted form of escapism."
"[I'm] reminded of reality television..."

Then we finally tackled the matter of Go Ask Alice itself. (Did you know it was named after a line in "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane?)

We talked about how it uses cliches and their problems. Topics fluttered over briefly include:
  • the melodrama
  • "unsuspecting first time"
  • aura of innocence while willingly engaging in drugs
  • how easy it is for sterilization

But mostly, we talked about how it's not actually a true story. (I apologize in advance if that ruins the book for you.) It's written by two ladies, Beatrice Sparks and Linda Glovach, and it's clear that they're trying to create a moral lecture throughout the story. (Easy to figure out: don't do drugs.)

A lot of people agreed that the perception changes how we see the story. A perhaps too-innocent girl becomes an obviously moral tale; silly things that could have been ignored become poor writing. And most of all, it seems like Sparks and Glovach don't respect their audience.

And then we talked about whether or not Go Ask Alice had any literary merit because of it, and especially because of the perception change.

But I'll leave that to you to judge.

Question for the Comments:
Straight from the white-board in the front of the class.
Do you think Go Ask Alice has merit? And if so, what kind (literary, social, historical)? Why or why not?

Did you miss a class?:
(Day 1)
(Day 2)
(Day 3)
(Day 4)
(Day 5)
(Day 6)
(Day 7)
(Day 8)


  1. I didn't know it was written as a moral tale...that does change things for me, as I forgave a lot of its deficiencies in story telling to the fact it was a girl telling her own story.

    For me, I guess the difference would be in whether or not these two women had experience with drug users or drug use themselves...the tale doesn't have to be "true" to be authentic.

    Overall, I think it has literary merit only because of how few things were written for teens at the time it was published...quality or not, it's classic YA.

  2. Oh my, I read this book when I was probably in 8th grade and had no idea it wasn't a true personal story. I hated it so much because I was such and innocent myself and couldn't believe people went through experiences like that. It completely devastated me. I was depressed and everything. This was in the mid-80s that I read it. Maybe it helped me decide to never take drugs. I don't know. I was never offered drugs as a teen. I hated the book so much but yet couldn't stop reading it to find out what happened to the girl. It makes me angry now to think that it wasn't real. If I would have known that back when I was in 8th grade it wouldn't have upset me so much. I'm not pleased with the authors.

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  4. (Whoops, accidentally deleted my first post :P) I read this book recently, knowing all the while that it wasn't a real diary, and did indeed find it like a car wreck- the plot was unbelievable and the characters were shallow, yet it was impossible to look away. I suppose that, if it helped teens stay away from drugs, that's a good thing... but it's not something I would qualify as a good read or recommend at all. However, I might have felt differently if I'd thought it was a true story- as you said, some of the writing flaws could have been forgiven.

  5. Whaaaaaaaaaat? It's not real?! that breaks my heart. That's worst than Jonathan Frey or whatever his name is. they KNEW it wasn't real and pitched it as real. That is a violation of trust and deliberate manipulation of teenagers. I read this booth back in the day, enjoyed it, shocked by it of course. I love problem novels, tho. I guess it is sort of a twisted form of escapism.

  6. You know, we do know the back story on this book, and it does color the way we read it… But that begs the question, Is it a fair technique to hide the true nature of authorhood, for the readers' sake?

    For example, JK Rowling was told not to use her real first name because then boys wouldn't be interested in Harry Potter. Yes, that falls in a different spot on the spectrum, but it's still a sort of deception.

    We don't necessarily have an answer. We're just asking the question.

    1. But Harry is still presented as a fictitious work, and boys still read it even after finding out the author was a woman. Despite being placed in the fiction section, Go Ask Alice was marketed as true. It's a deception that changes the entire story, whereas Rowling's is a deception that just makes it potentially easier to reach out to the ideal audience. It's still a deception, but it's one that's understood and accepted without colouring the story, whereas Go Ask Alice's completely changes the story itself.

  7. I think it's kind of sad that it isn't a true story and yet it's marketed that way. It completely changes the way you perceive the book.


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