Book Review: Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson

Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Borrowed
Two teens. Two diaries. Two social panics. One incredible fraud.

In 1971, Go Ask Alice reinvented the young adult genre with a blistering portrayal of sex, psychosis, and teenage self-destruction. The supposed diary of a middle-class addict, Go Ask Alice terrified adults and cemented LSD’s fearsome reputation, fueling support for the War on Drugs. Five million copies later, Go Ask Alice remains a divisive bestseller, outraging censors and earning new fans, all of them drawn by the book’s mythic premise: A Real Diary, by Anonymous.

But Alice was only the beginning.

In 1979, another diary rattled the culture, setting the stage for a national meltdown. The posthumous memoir of an alleged teenage Satanist, Jay’s Journal merged with a frightening new crisis—adolescent suicide—to create a literal witch hunt, shattering countless lives and poisoning whole communities.

In reality, Go Ask Alice and Jay’s Journal came from the same dark place: Beatrice Sparks, a serial con artist who betrayed a grieving family, stole a dead boy’s memory, and lied her way to the National Book Awards.

Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries is a true story of contagious deception. It stretches from Hollywood to Quantico, and passes through a tiny patch of Utah nicknamed “the fraud capital of America.” It’s the story of a doomed romance and a vengeful celebrity. Of a lazy press and a public mob. Of two suicidal teenagers, and their exploitation by a literary vampire.

Unmask Alice . . . where truth is stranger than nonfiction.

I love my job, but it can be a little monotonous sometimes. I code medical charts for an insurance company, and sometimes it’s really interesting and other times it’s 5,000 mind-numbing pages of nothing. So to keep my sanity, I’ll listen to something while I work. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s an audiobook, sometimes it’s a podcast. One of my favorite podcasts is You’re Wrong About, and I’ve listened to almost all of the episodes. A few months ago, Sarah did a series on Go Ask Alice with Carmen Maria Machado and Rick Emerson. By the time it was done, I knew that I absolutely had to read this book.

Honestly, my mind is blown.

I never read Go Ask Alice when I was growing up. I definitely remember it always being on the shelf in my library’s YA section, but nothing about it really appealed to me. For good reason, it seems, based on what I learned in this book.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but this is an absolutely crazy story. For the first maybe 80% of the book, the author splits his story into so many seemingly unconnected threads. It’s clear that they’ll come together somehow, and I was just wondering how the different stories and different people connected. And when they did? Like I said, my mind was blown. You can maybe imagine a little bit of what happened when you hear that Go Ask Alice is a work of fiction. But the layers of deception, the way that it spread, and the effect that it had on society is almost unbelievable.

This is such a well-written and engaging account of what happened. It’s a story that feels more like fiction since it’s so crazy that a grown woman could behave so badly. It’s like the Bad Blood of publishing. I really can’t recommend it enough, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the source material.

P.S. I’m now reading Go Ask Alice and at roughly 30% in, I can say I’m not at all surprised to find out all of it was a lie.


Have you read Unmask Alice? Have you gotten any good recommendations from a podcast?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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