Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries
By Rick Emerson
Expected Publication Date: June 7, 2022 by BenBella Books
4 out of 5 stars
When I was about 12 or so, Go Ask Alice was considered a reading rite of passage. Much like Flowers in the Attic or any of Judy Blume’s adult novels, copies of Alice were passed around between friends with whispered warnings not to get caught reading it, don’t let your parents confiscate it. It was the book to read, a teenager’s diary full of drugs, sex, and other taboos that the average kid in the early 1980’s didn’t normally get a chance to read about…and it was all true!! Wasn’t it??
In his upcoming release Unmask Alice, Rick Emerson explores the wild popularity of 1971’s Go Ask Alice and introduces us to the woman behind the book, Beatrice Sparks. I don’t know whether to describe Sparks as a con artist, delusional, or just hell-bent on finding fame at any cost (maybe a combination of all three), but the lengths this woman went to in order to achieve success is truly mind-boggling, to the point of ruining a well-meaning family who made the mistake of trusting her to tell the truth about their child.
The domino effects of not only Alice but another “true” diary put forward by Sparks, Jay’s Journal, are also examined by Emerson. The rise of the Satanic Panic era in the 80’s and early 90’s can largely be attributed to her publication of Jay’s Journal and her insistence that it was a real teen and his actual diary. Emerson touches on some of the ripples brought on by the panic, including the vilification of the board game, Dungeons and Dragons, the rise of “false memory” accusations, and suicide (Please note that suicide is major theme throughout the book. Proceed with caution if this is a trigger for you).
It’s important to mention that the narrative can seem like it’s all over the place. More than once I wondered where a certain side story was headed and why all the attention to certain details that didn’t seem relevant. Be patient and stick with it, it really does all come together in ways you may not see coming.
Overall, I thought this was a fascinating and thought-provoking read. There were a few things that I felt were either not needed or not explained fully, but hopefully they will be fixed in the final edit. Highly recommend.
As a quick side note: after finishing Unmask Alice, I dug out my tattered copy of Go Ask Alice that I bought with my birthday money sometime in 1982 or 1983 and did a quick reread. I still remember my younger self’s first impressions which included shock and sadness. Strangely enough, reading it as an adult in 2022, I still felt a bit of shock and sadness, not over the story itself but for the people whose grief was exploited for the sake of another’s need for fame.
Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!