Study Guide

Go Ask Alice Themes

By Anonymous, edited by Beatrice Sparks

  • Dissatisfaction

    We're pretty sure that the Rolling Stones wrote "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" about Alice. Well, okay, they would have if she'd been a real person. Who somehow knew Mick Jagger… moving on.

    In Go Ask Alice, Alice is one of those people who just aren't happy no matter what's going on. When she's with her parents, she's bored and sick of being "square." When she's high as a kite and living off love with the other hippies, she's disgusted by their lack of initiative and how worthless they all are. When she's on drugs, she is busy swearing them off, and when she's clean, she's bored and wishing she were high. This girl seriously can't get no satisfaction. (Ugh, did you cringe reading that? We cringed writing it, that's for sure.)

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Alice is constantly dissatisfied with her situation. Do you think she is merely being influenced by the generational discontent that was prevalent in the late 1960s/early 70s? Or is it an aspect of her personality?
    2. How much of Alice's dissatisfaction would you feel is normal for a teenage girl, and how much do you think might be a little overkill because the authors needed to make a point? (Remember: They were trying to show all the reasons why someone might turn to drugs.)
    3. Some of Alice's attempts to find happiness end up being… not so great. Remember that "diet" she goes on? What are some other examples of times Alice pursues satisfaction to her detriment?
    4. Alice seems to think that her parents are always unhappy with her—her hair, her clothes, her weight, her friends, and so on. How much of this is real, and how much has to do with her terrible self-esteem?

    Chew on This

    Alice is perpetually unhappy with her lot in life, and nothing she does will ever be able to satisfy her.

    Alice's dissatisfaction is just yet another convenient "symptom" of drug abusers that the authors needed to inject into their propaganda machine.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    Since Go Ask Alice is thinly veiled anti-drug propaganda, it kind of goes without saying that drugs and alcohol play a pretty huge role in our tale. Alice's journey into the substance-abusing hippie culture of the early 1970s—she tries everything from pot to LSD to heroin—is a harrowing tale of the cycle of addiction, and the authors pull out all the stops to show us that drugs are bad—very, very bad.

    We get to follow along on Alice's journey as she goes from loving her hallucinations and lack of inhibition to descending into the land of sexual assault, homelessness, and eventually death from overdose. Fun.

    Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

    1. There are a bunch of motives, if you will, for why Alice gets so hooked on drugs. Is it possible to rank them in order of importance? If yes, how would you rank them? If no, why?
    2. If Alice hadn't been innocently drugged with a spiked soda, do you think she would have sought out the same lifestyle on her own terms? Why?
    3. What does Alice find most appealing about drugs? The lack of inhibitions? The trippy hallucinations? The escape from reality? Whatever your answer, why is this the thing that pulls her in the most?

    Chew on This

    This story wouldn't work if it were set in the present day because, quite simply, drug culture is too different today.

    Alice's introduction to drugs had to be via innocent means—i.e., the spiked soda—in order for her to be a sympathetic character. If she'd just been at a party and casually chosen to try LSD, her story would have a different flavor.

  • Identity

    Go Ask Alice is supposed to be a diary, so there's quite a bit of anguished soul-searching and self-indulgent whining. There's no getting around the fact that Alice has almost non-existent self-esteem, so her sense of identity is determined by the people she surrounds herself with. Unfortunately, this includes some pretty unsavory characters. For the most part, however, she doesn't feel like she fits in anywhere. Part of her search for herself is what leads her down the road to Drugsville, which causes her to be even more lost than ever. Oops.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Why doesn't Alice feel like she fits in with her family? What is it about her that sets her apart?
    2. What causes her to go from questioning her sexual identity to feeling a sense of confidence in herself as a woman?
    3. Alice struggles to find a group of people with whom she can identify. Why are the druggies so appealing?

    Chew on This

    Alice's inability to form a sense of identity is normal, but linked with her lack of confidence, it is the main reason she turns to drugs.

    Instead of trying to figure out who she is, Alice hides from the hard work of figuring herself out, which leaves her pretty freaking stuck, developmentally.

  • Lies and Deceit

    One of the key ways that Alice is able to pull off all of her shenanigans in Go Ask Alice is a healthy dose of self-deception and denial. The whole time she is doing drugs, dealing drugs, and having sex for drugs, she knows deep down that it's a really bad thing. And yet, she has to somehow convince herself that it's okay—otherwise the self-loathing would threaten to overwhelm everything else.

    Some of the ease with which she does this can be blamed on her naïveté (the poor child just isn't all that tuned into the ways of the world), but the rest is a necessary evil. If she can't justify her behaviors to herself, her whole fantasy would collapse, so self-deception becomes like second nature.

    And we can't forget why this book was written. The authors know that a large part of the cycle of drug abuse is an addict's ability to delude themselves into believing their behavior is acceptable, or conversely, that they'll never do it again. We know better, though.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. What would you say is Alice's worst self-deception? Why? Be specific, please.
    2. Would Alice's addiction be possible if she wasn't so good at denial? Why or why not? Use the text to support your answer.
    3. Do you think Alice would've come clean if someone she cared about confronted her about her drug use?

    Chew on This

    Alice's stint as a drug dealer at the middle school is only possible as a result of her convincing herself that the kids would get the drugs with or without her.

    Alice is easily manipulated, and her mental acrobatics surrounding her job as a drug dealer are more Richie's fault than hers.

  • Religion

    Remember: The whole point of Go Ask Alice is to teach kids that drugs are bad, and the authors wanted to cover all the bases. If you keep that in mind, Alice's reliance upon religious tropes whenever she starts to come down off a drug binge is slightly less cloying. There's nothing wrong with turning to your faith when things seem to be falling apart—that's what religion is for, right? But we can't help feeling like Alice uses religion as another drug, to offer easy comfort and soothing platitudes so she can avoid reality (and responsibility for her actions) just a little while longer.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Why do you think Beth's Jewish-ness is so appealing to Alice? Give examples from the text, please.
    2. Toward the end of the diary, Alice becomes obsessed with death and its corporeal consequences (say that three times fast). Why doesn't she find comfort in her religious beliefs?
    3. What is the significance of Christmas, and the timing of Alice's cycles?
    4. Do you think Alice's faith is helpful in fighting her addictions? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Alice's tendency to turn to religion after a drug binge is a result of her upbringing, an ingrained response to crisis.

    Alice's religious dependency is actually just another tool the authors use to show the difference between good kids (i.e., clean, sober, church-going) and bad kids (i.e., drug-addicted hippies).

  • Mortality

    Even though Alice sees her family as part of her problem in Go Ask Alice, the deaths of her Gran and Gramps really trigger a response in her. Before they die, her diary entries are punctuated with casual remarks about wishing she were dead, or wanting to escape it all—but once they die, and she becomes obsessed with rotting corpses and worms and maggots and all the macabre aspects of decay. This preoccupation becomes especially significant when her inability to cope with that imagery becomes all too real during her catastrophic poisoning with LSD.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. What is the major turning point for Alice regarding death? Why? How does her attitude toward death change?
    2. Does Alice's fear of death make the ending of the diary suspicious? Why or why not?
    3. Alice proves that she has religious tendencies, so why doesn't she use religion to find comfort when confronted with the deaths of loved ones?

    Chew on This

    All of Alice's I wish I were dead statements are merely adolescent posturing and the idealization of an ultimate escape/easy way out.

    Alice is actually suicidal as a result of the depression she suffers at the beginning of the diary.

  • Innocence

    When it comes to Alice in Go Ask Alice, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between her innocence and her immaturity because they're so intertwined. She's possibly one of the most sheltered, naïve, blindly gullible teenagers to ever exist—either that, or she's really good at fooling herself into that state, because man, she thinks gullible is written on the ceiling.

    This state of innocence (and loss thereof) plays a huge role in the young adult cautionary tale genre because it's essential for the character to remain sympathetic. Watching someone's decline into sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll is only interesting if they're somewhat unable to take responsibility for their bad decisions. Otherwise, they're just kind of loathsome.

    Questions About Innocence

    1. Where would you pinpoint Alice's loss of innocence? Why would you argue this as the definitive moment?
    2. Alice's innocence is tied to her youth and immaturity. How would this book be different if she were older and less naïve?
    3. Would you say Alice regains her innocent status at the end of the book? Is it possible, or is innocence unobtainable once lost?

    Chew on This

    Alice's innocence is an integral part of the story because it is her loss of innocence that makes the story compelling.

    If Alice had died before she regained her "victim" status, her death wouldn't be nearly as tragic.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Alice has many problems in Go Ask Alice, but some of them have to do with her unrealistic plans and eternal optimism that verges on delusional. A lot of this stems from her immaturity and lack of experience—she just doesn't know how hard life really can be. Her naïveté gets in the way of reality whenever she crafts plans for the future, and it also helps her avoid confronting her problems with addiction since she clings to the idea of a clean-slate beginning. So even if she didn't die, her hopes for the future would be shaky at best.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Why is Alice's endless optimism damaging? Isn't it usually a good thing?
    2. Alice makes plans for her future while she's dating Richie. Do you think he led her to believe the suburban dream was his plan, too, or is she alone in that fantasy? Use the text to support your claim.
    3. How do Alice's plans for the future change from the beginning of the diary to the end? Be specific, please.

    Chew on This

    Alice's dreams are damaging because they set unachievable goals, so she's always setting herself up for disappointment.

    Alice's eternal optimism about the future contributes greatly toward her cycle of addiction—she thinks she'll always have another shot.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    No coming-of-age tale would be complete without a type of sexual awakening, and Go Ask Alice is no exception. Alice's sexuality evolves alongside her exploration of drugs and hippie culture, so we get to see her wide-eyed, innocent take on sex and love morph into casual prostitution, and then come back full circle to a kind of born-again virginity when she realizes she's never done the no-pants dance without the aid of some kind of drug. It's just what you'd expect from Alice as she tries to figure out who she wants to be in the world.

    Questions About Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    1. How much does the hippie movement influence her take on sex and sexuality? Give examples to support your answer.
    2. Do you think Alice would have lost her virginity when she does if she hadn't taken drugs? Could peer-pressure have been enough? Why or why not?
    3. Alice's views on sex change significantly throughout the book, but in what ways do they stay the same?

    Chew on This

    Alice's sexuality and her drug addiction are inextricably linked, because she's never had sex without being under the influence.

    Alice's insecurity and low self-esteem have as much to do with her sexuality as her drug abuse.

  • Isolation

    In Go Ask Alice, Alice's isolation stems from an inherent inability to communicate. She can't talk to her parents because she feels like they don't understand where she's coming from, and she refuses to talk to her friends about stuff that's bugging her because she fears judgment or social retribution. The sad thing is, though, that if she ever mustered up the courage to really talk to someone, she probably wouldn't feel so alone.

    Alice's isolation serves as yet another factor that leads to her drug abuse. It makes her all the more desperate, so when people drug her without her consent, she's just thankful to feel like she's finally part of something. Yikes.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Alice is constantly wishing she had someone to talk to, but then when she finally has friends she purposefully doesn't tell them the stuff she needs to talk about. What the heck is up with that? Like, seriously—please dig into her diary and break this one down for us in detail.
    2. Why doesn't Alice feel like she can talk to her parents? Is she correct? Incorrect? A mix of the two?
    3. Why is it that when Alice is actually isolated in the psych ward, she doesn't complain as much about being alone?

    Chew on This

    Alice feels isolated because of her own behavior.

    Alice feels isolated due to factors that are out of her control.