Go Ask Alice

White wicker bike basket with flowers_Olivia Poe FictionDuring grade school and junior high, I’d pedal my bike to the local library and check out the maximum number of books the librarian would allow me to have at one time: 10.

The purple Western Flyer bike with the white banana seat sported a white wicker basket latched to the front handlebars, decorated in the groovy-color flowers of the day. That basket carried a lot of books. After graduating to a 10-speed bicycle, I carried the books in a book bag slung over my shoulder.

Small town libraries are limited, and long before high school I’d moved from “chapter books” into the adult section. I think I was all of 10 when I plopped “Go Ask Alice” down on the front desk, only to have the horrified librarian snatch the book away and refuse to let me check it out.

Unperturbed, I went home, emptied my stash of change from the corner of my sock drawer, and soon found myself in line at the Ben Franklin Five & Dime, copy of the banned book in hand.

Fast forward more than a few decades. During a trip to a local bookstore I found the book. It was displayed front cover side out, which is what caught my eye. I hadn’t seen the book since I’d bought it years (and years!) before. Thumbing through it and reading a paragraph here and there, my early memories of the main character girl in the book were shattered.

Go Ask Alice was obviously not written by a real girl, living on the streets in a quasi-life dream only an inexperienced teenager rebelling against authority can identify with. Go Ask Alice was clearly written to be an anti-drug tool of the times. Alice was “Just Say No!” long before Nancy!

My, how age brings clarity! (And, to be that young again and know then what I know now!)

All of my friends wanted to read my copy of the book, and that paperback made its rounds until what was returned to me was missing the front cover, the pages dog-eared. The six or so of us would huddle in a tent in someone’s backyard, talking about the sheer story within the pages. How we all struggled to find some part within ourselves we could use to identify with Alice. How we all wanted to be the element of free spirit we saw in her.

In reality we were youngsters in a small town and we knew nothing except what the adults in our life had chosen to teach us over the years – all of their prejudices, fears, and small town opinions were all we knew. In hindsight, it looks like other adults of the times were trying to use their particular brand of propaganda to convince us to just say no to drugs and promiscuity and be good girls.

Be good girls. That age old expectation that’s been woven like iron into the pattern of society.

Did their cult classic propaganda experiment work on the six of us? You may say it did. The six of us in that tent all turned out to be the good girls in society – unless you want to disqualify the girl that had an abortion in the 9th grade, and another one that was pregnant with her second the year we graduated high school, but hey, she was married. Other than that? We’re all good.

Life. It turns out it’s all about the lessons learned.


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