• Unmask Alice

  • LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries
  • By: Rick Emerson
  • Narrated by: Gabra Zackman
  • Length: 9 hrs and 50 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (159 ratings)

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Unmask Alice

By: Rick Emerson
Narrated by: Gabra Zackman
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Publisher's Summary

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: 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."

©2022 BenBella Books (P)2022 BenBella Books

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Well-written and well-researched

Like a lot of Gen Xers, I read “Go Ask Alice” as a teenager. Like a lot of us, I thought it was real. This book exposes how so many of us were duped by a serial fraudster (Beatrice Sparks), and how so many people just let it go on, ostensibly because of money (the publishers) or because it helped their socio-political narrative (the politicians and religious zealots). It was pretty obvious this woman flat out lied about her qualifications (she was never a doctor, nor did she even finish college), and even with the evidence being there, people just continued on letting her lie. By the end of the book, I can honestly say that I’m somewhat outraged that any of her books are still being published, even with the publishers knowing what a fraud all of them are. At least change them to be categorized under fiction.

The reader did an outstanding job, and was easy too listen to.

Make sure you listen all the way to the end where the author discusses his research process, how, and where he got all his information.

As for me, I’m still processing how Beatrice Sparks, an appalling fraud of a person, was able to continue on writing lies, creating fake diaries, and fabricating her “qualifications” for decades without any recourse.

5 people found this helpful

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I’m from Pleasant Grove where rumors of Jay’s Journal are alive and well

I graduated from Pleasant Grove High School exactly two decades after the initial publication of Jay’s Journal, at a time when the internet was still in its infancy, fact checking was done in a library’s card catalogue, and the mythology surrounding Jay (real name Alden Barrett) had not abated. If anything, the cautionary tale of a local boy who falls in with the wrong crowd and begins practicing the occult were more than just rumors – they were taken in our community as gospel truth. Nearly everyone in Pleasant Grove knew someone who knew Barrett or had first-hand knowledge of the locations where he and his friends had practiced Satanic rituals. One persistent story was that Barrett had performed blood sacrifices and orgies in the basement of Pleasant Grove High School – a place I had been many times as a student to retrieve costumes and props for the drama department. Some claimed they had seen his ghost near his headstone in the local cemetery. Others said that he continued to haunt the house his family had lived in, the house where he had been possessed by a demon and eventually committed suicide.

It’s difficult to overstate how deeply disturbing allegations of teens participating in Satanic worship still is in Utah unless you’ve grown up here (I still live about 20 minutes from Pleasant Grove High School). The local population is made up largely of conservative members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS” or “Mormon” for short). As a naïve, impressionable young Mormon girl myself, just seeing Jay’s Journal sitting casually on the corner of a classmate’s desk made me fear that my own soul might somehow be imperiled. This fear was further reinforced by clergy and seminary teachers who repeatedly taught lessons on the evils of witchcraft and playing with Ouija boards. The only problem was, Alden Barrett had never actually participated in any of the occult practices purported in Jay’s Journal. The fantastical allegations of animal sacrifice and blood orgies were entirely the fictional imaginings of Go Ask Alice author and local Mormon housewife Beatrice Sparks.

In Unmask Alice, author Rick Emerson does a fine job of deconstructing the mythology behind Jay’s Journal while giving spot-on insight into the Mormon zeitgeist of the 1970s. Emerson details the life of Barrett – a smart, sensitive boy who frustrated his parents with his sudden mercurial emotions (it is believed Barrett had undiagnosed clinical depression). As a teen, Barrett’s refusal to cut his long hair and his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War embarrassed his family who wanted him to conform to the conservative community they lived in. After Barrett’s tragic suicide at the age of 16, his mother, Marcella, offered Alden’s diary to Beatrice Sparks in the hope that it might be published and offer comfort to other teens and families in similar situations. It wasn’t until the diary was eventually published (without Barrett’s knowledge or consent) as the “nonfiction” title Jay’s Journal, that Marcella realized she had been duped by Sparks.

Nearly fifty years on, Emerson’s scathing expose of Beatrice Sparks finally tells the true story behind one of literature’s biggest deceptions. Yet time and the truth will likely not keep Jay’s Journal from circulation on nonfiction shelves or whispered about in the halls of Pleasant Grove High School. In the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, the photograph on Alden Barrett’s headstone has been unrecognizably defaced by vandals – a testament to the lasting damage that Sparks continues to inflict on the Barrett family legacy. Unmask Alice is an important look at how one grieving mother’s desire to give purpose to her son’s tragic death was maliciously reframed, then passed off as truth - ultimately helping to fuel the “Satanic Panic” of the 1970s and weaponized against generations of impressionable youth.

2 people found this helpful

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Wanders too much

I wanted a concise story of the Go Ask Alice author but the book wanders all over. The breakdown of the boy behind one of the books was interesting but very long and detailed in a way that the story of Beatrice Sparks did not.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent

For the scales of the universe to be equal, this book should sell more then the Alice book did. It won’t though , because the reality of why humans have the troubles they do is kinda boring. And the solutions don’t require the tough love spankings that people take comfort in. Administer some violence and your job is done. Anything that happens after that is not your fault , because, daemons. What a depressing realization that the cure you as a parent or policy maker were administering was the actual disease.

1 person found this helpful

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Amazing

I rarely finish audiobooks. This had me hooked and I finished within a week.

Go ask Alice was a formative book for me in my teens, and being able to go back through the history of it with such detail was eye opening, especially as a queer trans person (you will understand if you get to the last few chapters!)

Looking forward to more work by Rick Emerson.

1 person found this helpful

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Really interesting content. Style is suss.

The core of this book is really interesting and has a lot to say about media and culture. With that said, it’s not the most academic in terms of tone or research. It makes for easy reading/listening but I think the author has a way of presenting information in a salacious light, even when that may not be warranted. There’s a lot of editorializing, which is not my personal taste for nonfiction. In a previous life the author was a talk radio host: as a result, this book reads like a crime podcast. It’s enjoyable and thought provoking content but the execution is just so-so.

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Important and well written

As a Utahn, I wasn't aware that Go Ask Alice's origin was literally so close to home. Even though I did not read GAA growing up, I had many friends who did for required school reading, and Unmask has made me think deeper about things that I was told growing up in Utah culture. For instance, "devil worshiper" threats and "magical" stories were very common. I know that "the church" often perpetuates these ideas but I can't help believe that Jay's Journal and Sparks' various other fake journals helped play a part in spreading these ideas.

This book felt both enraging and important, especially when it often seems as though remnants of the satanic panic have creeped back up with the rumors of public figures supposedly eating babies and drinking blood.

The book is well written and the narration is great. Read this!

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I always thought so.

I remember reading Go Ask Alice as a Jr/High school student. It was an intense read for a young student. That said I always wondered WHO spoke like this? She spoke like an adult trying to sound like a teen. Fast Forward to the age of the internet and I asked one of those Q &A sights if the author of Go Ask Alice had even been identified. That is when I learned just who Beatrice Sparks is/was. I guess I was still hoping for a “real” Alice. At last we have a book that puts all of that to rest. I had never read any of the other books that Beatrice Sparks had any hand in editing. (Though I had read some reviews from Jay’s Journal) It was well researched and I learned a lot, especially about the author of Jay’s Journal. At least he existed. He was a real person. Alice? She was a made up person who only existed in Sparks imagination.

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Researched well and empathetic

Listened to this on a roadtrip and it was a really good listen. It does drag along at certain parts but otherwise, very well researched and written,

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WOW!!!

If this were the physical book it would be a real page-turner. I could NOT STOP listening. I am impressed with the writing and years of extensive research. Amazing book!

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  • Kalyn Wilson
  • 09-28-22

Not quite what I expected. Honestly, better.

I heard about this book via the You're Wrong About podcast. I was expecting a purely factual/investigative story, but this is far more in depth than that. The author has taken great pains to give plenty of space to the real stories of the diarists whose lives were used as the basis for Alice and other books in the genre as well as wider context for the impact of these books on individuals, families, communities, and culture. The depth of research is matched by the depth of empathy, and the narration is absolutely perfect.