Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries is a true story of 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.
In 1971, Go Ask Alice became an instant sensation...The anonymous diary detailed the life of a teen girl who tries LSD and is seduced into the fatal world of addiction...Emerson unveils the woman responsible for the book, Beatrice Sparks...Sparks, a 'psychologist,' claimed to have met Alice at a convention and published the diary as a cautionary tale at the request of Alice’s parents...This story has never been corroborated...Go Ask Alice’s success inspired suicide victim Alden Barrett’s mother to send his journal to Sparks with hopes that she would raise awareness about mental health...The fictional work, published and marketed as fact, tore apart the Barrett family and ignited the Satanic panic, ruining countless lives...An absorbing and unnerving read about how one conniving con artist’s unquenchable thirst for acclaim fooled the publishing world and fed two cultural panics with lasting fallout, this book demands to be finished in one sitting.
There’s a perverse pleasure in reading another person’s diary...It might be the violation against this writing act itself—diaries are not meant to be read by anyone but the author...Whenever readers do get access to a person’s private diaries, like those of Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf, there’s naturally an intoxicating pleasure in pouring over entries that give unguarded, seemingly authentic access to these mythologized people and their inner thoughts...Now a new book, Unmask Alice, explores how so many of us were tricked by a false promise of true tragedy and trauma when reading teen 'diary' Go Ask Alice (1971)...Unmask Alice provides a propulsive reckoning on Go Ask Alice and its author’s lifelong obsession with self-mythologizing her own involvement with it...While there’s more widespread knowledge today about Go Ask Alice’s fiction, what makes Emerson’s efforts so compelling is how he neatly peels back the many complex deceptions by Sparks made across her lifetime...These includes fabricating 'real' teen depression and suicide across many best-selling books, exploiting various cultural panics about drugs and witchcraft for monetary gain, and even elevating her own stature to that of 'leading psychologist' in youth mental health...Unmask Alice is a noble project that singularly synthesizes the many strange, contradictory, and mostly scattered fictions that surround both Go Ask Alice and Beatrice Sparks herself...Emerson’s writing is smart throughout, with various tricks—including clipped, staccato chapters that come to mirror slim diary entries—keeping readers engaged across an otherwise complex web of deceit, exploitation, and even sad folly that form this wider backstory.
'Go Ask Alice' soon became a cultural phenomenon of such enduring power and popularity that millions of readers have sped through its pages, many testifying to its influence over their lives...But where did this diary come from?...That’s the mystery—or one of the mysteries—that Rick Emerson attempts to unravel in Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries...The trail Mr. Emerson, a longtime talk-radio host and producer, followed via documents and interviews led him deep into the life of a woman named Beatrice Sparks, a struggling writer from Provo, Utah, credited as 'author' on the copyright application for 'Go Ask Alice'...Beatrice Sparks 'discovered' and 'edited' a half-dozen more such journals before her death at 95 in 2012...Her biographer makes her into something of a villain whose presence seems almost oppressive in these pages...That’s not just because Mr. Emerson is scrupulous in nailing down the details of her dissemblings, her contradictory stories about her sources and her past, or her flat-out lies; it’s also because at moments Unmasking Alice turns from an investigation into an enduring publishing mystery into a trial more overheated than if the Queen of Hearts were presiding...It’s to the author’s credit that the trip, in the end, remains worth taking.