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Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the…

Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries (edition 2022)

by Rick Emerson (Author)

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16312159,533 (3.98)6
"Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the Worlds Most Notorious Diaries is the true story of a young-adult blockbuster . . . of a terror that stalked 1980s America . . . and of the ruthless charlatan behind both"--
Title:Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries
Authors:Rick Emerson (Author)
Info:BenBella Books (2022), 384 pages

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Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson


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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Well researched book that was an enjoyable read. ( )
  EZLivin | Sep 18, 2023 |
In the early 1970s, fueled by a moral panic about new hallucinogenic drugs hitting the streets, a purported "real diary" of a real girl hit the bestseller lists -- and it's stayed in print ever since. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous was a smash hit, and for several years, few questioned its raw authenticity. In the years since, it's become common knowledge that the book was actually written by Beatrice Sparks, a middle-aged woman who claimed to be a therapist working with troubled teens. In Unmask Alice, Emerson looks at Sparks and what can be known about her life. A compulsive liar, Sparks claimed to have attended universities that have no record of her and earned degrees that have never materialized. She tells a story of meeting "Alice" at a Christian youth conference and being given her diaries, but the timeline never matches up with the events of "Alice's" short, tragic life. When a grieving mother passes along her dead son's journal years later, hoping that her son's story can help other suffering teens, Sparks spins it into Jay's Journal, a sensationalized tale of witchcraft and Satanism that bears little resemblance to the life of the sensitive, struggling teen who wrote the original journal. This book comes out as Americans are ripe for the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and lends plenty of fuel to that particular fire. Why did Sparks create these "diaries" (and several others that she published over the course of her lifetime)? Was she motivated by a desire to help troubled teens, or was she in it for the money -- and the fame that continued to elude her as her publisher insisted that her name be left off Go Ask Alice? In either case, she told a lot of lies, and Emerson does not spare the blame for the damage her books (especially Jay's Journal) may have done. I found this a gripping and fascinating read -- I finished it in a day, after coming across an interview with the author. I never read any of the Anonymous Diaries, either as a teen or as an adult, but I'm always fascinated by nonfiction related to children's literature, and this one is a particularly readable example of its type. ( )
  foggidawn | Jun 12, 2023 |
I'm endlessly fascinated by the 'memoir' genre because it seems so slippery. Who can forget Oprah scolding James Frey on national television about lying? Or how This American Life had to retract their story "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," because it turn out it was all made up? (There's a long long long awkward pause in the retraction episode in which Ira Glass asks Mike Daisey why he lied and he says something like, "............(the world's longest pause).......because I wanted people to care.") Unmask Alice likewise deals with the issue of truth or untruth in memoir genre, which centers on the machinations of Beatrice Sparks. (And maybe Beatrice just wanted us to care too? That's the generous and charitable interpretation, I think.) I remember reading Go Ask Alice as a teenager and apart from all of the sex and drugs, she did manage to capture the emotional angst of many teenagers. I never read Jay's Journal, so can't comment, but if Emerson has got this right, the occult Satanic Panic stuff was invented by Sparks out of thin air but also hit a national nerve with the sweeping moral panic of the mid 1980s-1990s. That said, not everyone is going to like this book. Emerson has a sarcastic streak a mile wide but his outrage and incredulity about how so many people managed to unquestioningly swallow massive amounts of unbelievable stuff without any evidence at all is not misplaced. (Apologies for the adjective strings.) On the other hand, there's a whole contemporary conspiracy movement that has sucked in millions of people (also entirely without evidence) that has some eerie parallels with Emerson's subjects, particularly the Jay story, so his outrage and disbelief is not misplaced. But the slipperiest subject of all is Beatrice Sparks herself, as she invents credentials, professional contacts, a work history, and the lives of 'teenagers' out of thin air in a relentless quest to *be* someone. And yet despite all that and compelling evidence of Sparks as the author of all of the 'diarists' she professed to 'edit' and her hard won success, she continues to exist on the margins as the 'editor' of these works, not as the author she imagined herself to be. This book feels like a looking glass (Alice reference intended) of truthiness or art imitating life imitating fake art imitating lies about life. All in all, interesting questions to think about and through. ( )
  lisamunro | Apr 16, 2023 |
Rick Emerson delves into the story of Beatrice Sparks, the woman behind Go Ask Alice, whose own stories of her own life and how she received the "diaries" that she "edited" shifted and changed with every telling.

Go Ask Alice was an absolute phenomenon when it was published in 1971, and its notoriety continued well into the 90s and early 2000s when I was a teen and read it as my "Banned Books Week" selection one year. I remember being shocked that it was challenged because of drug use because, if anything, the book would have convinced a teen like me never to come close to trying drugs for fear your life would spiral out of control from then on. I'm sure that some of the sexual references went completely over my head at the time. And, I never read any of the other books. Because Go Ask Alice was just the beginning - another book, Jay's Journal, is the one where Sparks completely fabricated Satanic rituals and an Occultic downward spiral out of a very real teenager's diary - that of a boy named Allen, whose story is laid out in careful detail by Emerson before he explains what Sparks did with the raw material.

Emerson's account of all of this is propelling. I read it in a day. If anything, my complaint is that it wasn't quite detailed enough. He explains why he didn't cite sources in his note at the end, but I still would have liked a a list of the nonfiction accounts he mentions throughout the text, especially when it came to the Satanic panic. I thought that part was on the thinnest ground: he doesn't entirely make the case that Jay's Journal was the cause, rather than just something timely that folks grasped onto during it. Still, it's riveting reading, and one I'd recommend to anyone interested in stories of the wild world of publishing, truth and fiction. ( )
1 vote bell7 | Mar 14, 2023 |
A very compelling read, and I found the approach to the material to be reasonably holistic - the first part of the book is very much about the cultural moment in which Go Ask Alice was published, and that is explored very well. I removed a star because it does at times read like true crime, which I loathe; and then I added another half star because I work in death care, and the author's understanding of the behavior of grieving parents was very well-considered and accurate. It's a good book. ( )
  scarylullabies | Feb 17, 2023 |
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"Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the Worlds Most Notorious Diaries is the true story of a young-adult blockbuster . . . of a terror that stalked 1980s America . . . and of the ruthless charlatan behind both"--

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