LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries
- Rick Emerson
May 23, 2022
Goodreads Book Blurb:
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.
***Thanks to NetGalley and BenBella Books for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
enjoyable/easy to read:
That's the dirty secret. Drugs work. When life hurts, they stop the pain. Who could argue with that?
I’m a little too young (wow, I don’t get to say that much anymore…) to have known what Go Ask Alice was before reading this book, but I still found Unmask Alice fascinating. It was like being sucked into the whirlpool of a hideous woman’s horrific actions. There were a lot of sketchy moments, but I cannot fathom her thought process when handling Alden’s journal, let alone the dominoes it set off with her neverending terrible decisions. That poor family.
I’ve listened to enough true crime podcasts to be reasonably knowledgable about the bullshit dubbed the satanic panic in the 80s and 90s. Still, it was crazy to read how little evidence there was for these massive conferences and accusations. So many people were caught up and given trumped-up charges on absolutely zero evidence – just junk science, politics, and religious propaganda. Sounds frighteningly familiar these days…
Richard Nixon didn't do middle paths. He saw every problem as a personal challenge, if not a personal insult. Liberals, psychiatrists, Jews, hippies, draft dodgers, dope smokers - they were like goddamned cockroaches, creeping around and waggling their fucking antennae. You couldn't back down or 'get along.' You had to smash the bastards, make them pay. That was how you won.
Emerson tackled a lot with Unmask Alice, but I do think he brought it all together well. There’s a narrative thread that makes it easier to read than most non-fiction. I do think it will hit harder if you’ve read Go Ask Alice – or have at least heard of it – but I went in with zero knowledge and still found it interesting.