Friday, May 13, 2011

GO ASK ALICE (when she's wearing her white pants suit)

          Sometimes when a student is really effusive and passionate about a heavily issue-driven book, you have to pay attention and try to find out if the kid is trying to let you know that they themselves have (or are having) some of the same issues.
          Years ago at the junior high school we had a boy who was a library regular and he became really fixated on A Child Called It, which led to us discovering that he had been abused and neglected by his own mother.  Apparently she kept him locked in a closet for long stretches of time, as well as worse things.  Luckily the counselors already knew about all this and it was being addressed, but it helped that we knew, and could be part of his support network.
          A few weeks ago during our lunch-time library book club meeting, one of the girls was just on fire with passion about Go Ask Alice by "Anonymous."  She read us passages from it, and talked about what an impact it had on her.  She was almost breathless with emotion about the book.  The Librarian told us she remembers when it first came out and was very controversial because of the subject matter.  The book club kids asked why it was so controversial even for older teens, and I said something like, "Sometimes adults forget that kids are exposed to all kinds of things that we WISH they weren't," to which the girl replied quickly, "You have NO IDEA..." sort of under her breath.  Of course that made me go, "Hm..."
Go ahead.  Ask her.
          Most people are familiar enough with Go Ask Alice to know it's about teenage drug addiction, supposedly a real diary kept by a girl who lost her battle.  Because the publisher states that names and places had been changed to protect the privacy of the real families involved, it has to be kept in fiction.  Personally, I'm pretty sure it is TOTAL fiction, just based on very real issues.  But the publisher presents it like a real diary, which totally hooks the teens.
          I suggested the girl also read Jay's Journal, another supposedly real diary from the same publisher/editor.  As we were wrapping up our book club meeting, the girl implored me to read Go Ask Alice, saying she really wanted me to read it so we could talk about it.  How can I say no to that?  I checked it out that day, but it sat around at home for over a week since it's not the kind of thing I usually read.  I finally started it today.  I keep debating on whether or not I should worry about this girl's strong connection to the book.  Is there some kind of drama unfolding at home?  Or maybe she's just fascinated by the subject matter.  She's a good writer, and seems to like writing about the darker, grittier side of life. 
          Teens are tricky.  It's important to pay attention to them, but you also don't want to cause a fuss over nothing and embarrass them, so that they stop sharing things with you.
"Jay" is such a copycat.
          Go Ask Alice was published in 1971, and at first I was thinking the author had done a pretty good job being just vague enough with details about music, clothes, and movies to make it seem timeless.  But then I ran across a mention of "Alice" having her mother help her sew her own clothes for school.  Then she wears a "white pants suit" to a party, and I thought, "Oh, girl...."
          Then she puts her hair up with orange juice cans so it'll have just the right amount of curl at the ends.
          Aside from jarringly '60s/'70s details like that, I can totally see why this book appeals to teenage girls because "Alice" is quite melodramatic and prone to hyperbole.  Worried about boys, about popularity, her weight, her skin, her hair...
          I haven't yet come to the part where it all hits the fan, though.
          The next teen novel I need to read because of an adamant student recommendation is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, which I will probably easily relate to.
          (Not that I CAN'T relate to worrying about boys, popularity, weight, skin, and hair.)
Well, I like the chartreuse cover, so I guess I'll read it.
    

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