Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: June 7, 2022
Buy Links: Unabridged Books
Read an Edelweiss eARC
Content warning: suicide (graphic, on-page), child abuse, gaslighting, fraud, drug abuse, ritual abuse, religious abuse, violence
Go Ask Alice is a book that floated on the periphery of my awareness during middle school. Usually featured as a banned book, I had the vaguest knowledge of its contents. The title of this non-fiction investigation into the origin of this reviled book piqued my interest. I fell into it like being swallowed into a can of worms that covers American politics, the inner workings of publishing, and heart-wrenching stories of families in way over their heads when it comes to their children’s adolescence and mental health.
The story behind the “memoir” is a wild ride from start to finish. It touches on the war on drugs, Satanic panic, ethics in publishing, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Compelling is not strong enough a word to describe this piece of investigative work. It had me hooked, and I couldn’t pull myself away without thinking about what next wild connection is coming. None of it feels manufactured for narrative effect. There are just so many connection nodes and decisions made every step of the way that warrant soft whispering in disbelief.
Emerson has an awareness of what he’s trying to do with exposing the truth behind the fiction pitched as nonfiction. With the amount of fraud already committed, there is a reverence on page for the subjects discussed and people depicted with an appropriate irreverence for the absurdity that was everything about American culture in the 1970’s and 80’s. The fact that anyone made it adulthood during those years in the U.S. is kind of a miracle. Emerson is deeply aware of this, and tries his best to cite every piece of new information, especially the more personal accounts of mental health and drug use/abuse found within.
The book had me gripped by every turn. I found myself pausing often to say, “what the absolute f*ck” at every new reveal. Now, to be clear, the plot beats of people’s real lives aren’t the salacious details; it’s the complete lack of decency. I don’t want to spoil any of the journey, but every decision the original “editor” of Go Ask Alice made is worthy of a Kidney Person-type blow-up on publishing Twitter. The publishing journey alone is a melange of appropriate business decisions that ultimately caused a lot of harm in the masking of literature as narrative non-fiction. Time and again, there is evidence that contemporary-style fact-checking could have prevented a lot of harm—and yet, con artists are going to con.
Please heed the content warnings. The discussion and depiction of mental health emergencies and suicide does not pull any punches. It is not presented to be titillating, but from a perspective of recouping due diligence that was sorely lacking in the initial publication of the two diaries at the center of controversy, capitalizing on the outrage of a religious minority.