An unnamed fifteen-year-old diarist, whom the novel's title refers to as Alice, starts a diary. With a sensitive, observant style, she records her adolescent woes: she worries about what her crush Roger thinks of her; she loathes her weight gain; she fears her budding sexuality; she is uncomfortable at school; she has difficulty relating to her parents. Alice's father, a college professor, accepts a teaching position at a different college and the family will move at the start of the new year, which cheers Alice up.
The move is difficult. While the rest of her family adjusts to the new town, Alice feels like an outcast at school. Soon she meets Beth, a Jewish neighbor, and the two become fast friends. Beth leaves for summer camp and Alice goes to live with her grandparents. She is bored, but reunites with an old friend, Jill, who invites Alice to a party. At the party, Alice unwittingly drops LSD and experiences a fantastic drug trip. Though curious, she vows not to do drugs again.
Alice happily experiments with more drugs and loses her virginity while on acid. Roger and his parents show up unexpectedly to visit her grandfather, who has had a small heart attack. Alice is enthralled with Roger but feels guilty about her drug use and loss of virginity. She doesn't know to whom she can talk about drugs. She is worried that she may be pregnant. Alice goes home and her family accepts her warmly. Unable to sleep, she receives powerful tranquilizers from her doctor. Beth returns from camp, but Alice finds that Beth has changed. In a boutique, Alice meets Chris, a hip girl. Alice's parents worry about Alice's "hippie" appearance.
Alice and Chris are both dissatisfied with the establishment and their own families. Alice gets a job working with Chris, and the two become best friends. At school, they use drugs and are popular. Chris's friend Richie, a college boy, turns Alice on to marijuana. To make more money for drugs, she and Chris sell drugs and do whatever they can to help Richie and Ted (Chris's boyfriend and Richie's roommate). Alice and Chris discover Richie and Ted having sex with each other and flee to San Francisco. Alice turns Richie in to the police and vows to stay clean with Chris. They move into a cramped apartment. Chris secures a job in a boutique with a glamorous older woman, Sheila, and Alice gets one with a custom jeweler. Sheila invites the girls to a party at her house.
At Sheila's swanky party, the girls use drugs again. They continue to party with Sheila until one night, when trying heroin, Alice realizes that Sheila and her boyfriend have been raping and brutalizing them. The girls kick their drug lifestyle. They find a new apartment in Berkeley and open a jewelry shop there, which turns into a hangout for the neighborhood kids. Alice misses her family. She returns home for Christmas, and the holiday spirit and family camaraderie revive her. She begins school and resists drug advances from old friends, though some are aggressive. Chris smokes marijuana with her, and Alice goes back on drugs. The police raid Chris's house while she and Alice use drugs. The girls are put on probation, and Alice will be sent to a psychiatrist.
Alice continues to do drugs without her family's knowledge. She hitchhikes to Denver (recording her diary entries on scraps of paper without dates). She travels to Oregon with other drug users but soon loses them. A janitor directs her to a mission similar to the Salvation Army. Alice is cleaned up and meets a young sufferer of lifelong sexual abuse, Doris, who lets her stay at her apartment. They get sick from malnourishment and hitchhike to Southern California, where Alice takes more drugs, even prostituting herself for them. Alice talks with a priest about teen runaways, and he calls her parents. They want her to come home. In the city, Alice meets several other runaways and talks to them about why they left home. She imagines she may go into child guidance or psychology some day to help out others, and she vows to quit drugs.
Alice comes home and is excited to renew her life with her family. Alice loses consciousness and drifts off into a reverie that she thinks is either a flashback (caused by LSD residue in the spinal cavity) or a schizophrenic episode. Otherwise, Alice is happy with her family and with herself, except for her social isolation: she can't hang out with drug users, and "straight" kids don't want her around. Alice's grandfather dies in a coma from a stroke. She agonizes over the thought of worms and maggots eating his dead body underground. Her relationship with her father matures. Someone plants a joint in Alice's purse, and she leaves school to go to his office. He consoles her, and gets her permission to study at the university library.
Alice meets a freshman at the university library, Joel; his father is dead, his mother is a factory worker, and he works as a janitor to pay for school. He and Alice get to know each other better, as does her family. She fantasizes about marrying him. Pressure to use drugs at school intensifies, as the kids harass Alice and her family. Alice's grandmother dies. After the funeral, Joel has a long talk with her about death that makes her feel better, and they kiss. She opens up to Joel about some of her past, and he is kind and supportive.
Alice writes in her undated diary from a hospital. She is unsure how she has ended up here and can only think of the worms she thinks are eating her alive. She has chewed her fingers to the bone, and clawed up her face and body. Her father says that someone dosed with LSD the chocolate-covered peanuts Alice was eating while she was baby-sitting. Alice finds out she is being sent to an insane asylum. Her father tells her that when her case was brought before a juvenile court and that Jan and another girl testified that Alice had still been on drugs and was selling them. Alice registers at the State Mental Hospital. She is frightened by the ugly building and by the inmates. She meets a little thirteen-year-old girl, Babbie, a former prostitute and drug user with a history of sexual abuse.
Life in the asylum drains Alice. A visit from her parents brings a warm letter from Joel. Her father reports that Jan has retracted her statement, and they're trying to get the other girl to do the same to free Alice. Alice returns home and is happy to be with her family. The family takes a vacation together, and when they return, Alice is invited swimming by Fawn, a "straight" kid. She has a fun time with Fawn's friends and hopes that they haven't heard stories about her. Joel makes a surprise visit and gives her a friendship ring, which she vows to wear her whole life. She is worried about starting school again but feels stronger with the support of her new friends and Joel. She comments that she no longer needs a diary, for she now has people in her life with whom she can communicate.
In the epilogue, we are told that Alice died three weeks later of an overdose—whether it was premeditated or accidental remains unclear—and that she was one of thousands of drug deaths that year.
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A fifteen-year-old girl begins writing diary entries on September 16th. Her identity is anonymous, her hometown is unnamed and the specific year is not stated. With the suburban setting and her nuclear family (consisting of her Father, Mother and younger siblings, Tim and Alexandra), it's an average premise. From the very first scribing, her heightened sense of morality and intense observations are evident. She refers to the diary as a "special friend," and uses it as an emotional conduit.
The first month primarily contains the expected lamentations of an undistinguished teenager; she has a melodramatic breakup with a boy named Roger, faces ensuing scrutiny at school, dismisses her fifteenth birthday as "nothing" and self-loathes after gaining seven pounds of body fat. Her family also receives the news of her Father's promotion to Dean of Political Science at a different college. They will be moving to a new town and her and her siblings will be attending a new school. Although nervous to confront the change, the Diarist vows to reinvent herself in preparation for it. She uses the diary to solidify her statements, and jovially anticipates the moving process.
By October 26th, her proses reflect this optimism. She responds positively to school, goes on a date with a boy named Scott and begins actively assisting around the house. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays pass, introducing her Grandmother and Grandfather. Despite her natural respect for her parents, the Diarist holds considerable admiration for her grandparents. As the moving date comes closer, The Diarist begins to face an existential crisis and questions her adaptability to a new environment. On January 4th, her fears are brought to fruition as the move is complete.
The following few fortnights are frightening for the Diarist. She perceives herself as a pariah at the new school, and struggles to socialize. She grows increasingly alienated and depressed, retorting to binge eating and gaining weight. Eventually, however, she meets a girl named Beth and the two formulate a fast friendship. By mid-June, school is out. The Diarist and Beth have become best friends who constantly accompany one another. One day, Beth reveals that she will be leaving to attend Summer Camp. The Diarist, upset over her friend’s impending absence, receives permission to vacation at her grandparent’s house.
Initially, the stay is dull and uneventful. One day, however, the Diarist reconciles with a former schoolmate named Jill in a department store. Jill invites her to a party being hosted on July 9th. She happily accepts to attend, unaware of the consequential course of events about to be sent into motion.
The gathering is seemingly casual, and the Diarist is instantly accepted by the partygoers. She really “digged the vibe.” After a little while, they all begin playing a game called “Button Button, Who’s got the Button?” A tray of beverages are given out, some being laced with LSD. The Diarist is unaware of this as she participates. Following her drink, she embarks on an intense and cathartic drug trip. A boy named Bill congenially coaches her through it.
The Diarist experiences both guilt and nostalgia after the intoxication wears off. She expresses her awareness regarding the danger of drugs, but ponders if the pleasure they provide is worth it. She continues to dabble with Jill and begins dating Bill, who introduces her to a growing list of substances, including “torpedoes.” Each high seems to be more vibrant than the last.
On July 23rd, her Grandfather suffers a heart attack. This experience intensifies her guilt, and although her Grandfather’s condition improves, the Diarist’s condition worsens. On August 6th, during the climax of an acid trip, she loses her virginity to Bill. In retrospect, she is not particularly emotionally-invested with him, but enjoyed the high nevertheless. She also realizes the risk of pregnancy. To combat the overwhelming guilt and anxiety, as well as the hyperactive side effects of “Speed,” she begins abusing her grandparent’s sleeping pills.
Upon returning home in late August, the Diarist’s dependency to sleeping pills devolves into using Tranquilizers and Dexies. She lies to her Mother and obtains a prescription from a doctor for even more powerful doses. Her parents begin to protest her unkempt appearance and demeanor, which begins to mirror that of a prototypical “hippy.” Beth returns from camp but opposes the party scene, which severs their friendship.
On September 6th, the Diarist meets a girl named Chris, who works at a boutique shop. The two become friends and Chris even helps the Diarist get hired alongside her. Unlike Beth, Chris accepts the drug lifestyle and introduces the Diarist to Marijuana. The pair begins dating two college-aged drug dealers named Ted and Richie. They become enthralled with their new boyfriends, as well the copious amount of substances which they can provide. The Diarist begins having casual sex and peddling drugs for Richie. In her blind idolization of him, the Diarist even sells Acid to a nine-year-old. One day, Chris walks in on Ted sodomizing Richie. This makes her realize that she and the Diarist were merely being used to make money.
Distraught with the recent circumstances, The Diarist and Chris impulsively decide to report Ted and Richie to the authorities, quit their jobs and move to California. After sneaking out to catch a bus, they arrive in San Francisco on October 26th.
The Diarist and Chris vow to quit using drugs and to find gainful employment. The first month of sobriety and job hunting is miserable. Chris eventually finds employment in an affluent antique shop owned by a socialite named Sheila. The Diarist finds employment at a jewelry shop. Sheila invites the girls to lavish parties and reintroduces the girls to drugs. One night, after getting high on Hash and Heroin, the Diarist and Chris are raped by Sheila and her boyfriend Rod.
The rape is traumatic, and on December 6th, the Diarist and Chris flee to Berkeley, California. While here, they open a jewelry shop. The shop is a minor success, predominantly used as a hangout for the local stoner kids. This allows the Diarist to subjectively observe the “drug kids.” Fatigued and homesick, the Diarist and Chris return to their hometown on December 23rd.
Upon returning home, the Diarist is warmly embraced by her family. The Christmas holiday helps to unify them, and the Diarist begins to regret her past decisions. Noting how aged her grandparents look, the Diarist once again vows to quit using drugs and accept responsibility for her actions. Whenever she returns to school, however, she is pressured and pursued by her former friends of the drug scene. One boy asks her if she’s “holding,” referring to her past of peddling. Another boy blackmails her to find a new dealer. Finding it increasingly difficult to escape her past, The Diarist disregards her vow. Her and Chris relapse one night, and decide to begin dealing again. They meet a dealer named Lane, who supplies them with drugs to distribute.
Shortly after, Lane is caught by the police. After Lane is detained and questioned, the police raid Chris’ house while the Diarist is there. Fortunately, the two were still sober at the time and were coherent enough to evade arrest. The incident did, however, reveal the Diarist’s drug use to her parents. In response, her parents began enforcing strict curfews and inflicting constant surveillance upon her. One night in March, after getting high on “co-pilots,” the Diarist runs away from home.
After dazedly hitch-hiking across multiple states in a high stupor, the Diarist finds herself homeless in Oregon. She goes to a homeless clinic and shelter, which supplies her with free vitamins and first aid, as well as dry clothes. She also attends a rally and seemingly joins a coven of “dopers.” The Diarist also openly prostitutes herself to strangers. This supports her hedonistic habits. The entries become increasingly mean-spirited as she experiences withdrawal. After stumbling across a well-meaning priest, she is returned home.
The Second Diary begins on April 6th, almost two years after the first entry.
The Diarist laments and repents for her mistakes and addictions. She, yet again, vows to abstain from drugs. She applies herself to the goal of becoming a drug counselor, so she can inform the ignorant users of the danger of drugs, having experienced it firsthand. At school, however, The Diarist is still victimized by her past. The principal informs her that he is aware of her history of dealing and using. One night, while studying, she experiences a flashback trip, waking up nude on the floor. Another day, a girl named Jan invites her to a party. After not attending, she faces ostracization and heckling from the partiers.
On May 1st, the Diarist’s Grandfather has a fatal stroke. This is the first death experience in her lifetime, and the funeral leaves a pivotal impression. She is traumatized with visions of decomposition and human carcasses. She meets a boy named Joel. The taunting from the party crowd becomes increasingly hostile. They were responsible for planting a joint in her purse, threatening to fill her Father’s gas tank with sugar and leaving a lit roach in her locker. Additionally, her Grandmother’s health deteriorates from depression and on June 16th, she died as well.
The shellshock from the deaths sends the Diarist’s into a deep depression, and the visions of decomposition become more frequent. On July 7th, while babysitting, she is unknowing laced with acid planted by Jan. The dose is exponentially high, her mindset is depressed and her tolerance is low after months of sobriety. The bad trip results in her grinding her fingertips raw, hallucinating her own death and decomposition, and being institutionalized in an asylum.
During the duration of the trip, which lasts for weeks, she envisions worms and maggots feasting upon her flesh. She is tormented by apparitions and voices resembling her grandparents. It’s not until August 9th that she is declared mentally intact enough to return home.
Once released, the Diarist is finally free from the drugs. Her father is invited to give a speech at a distant university, and during the vacation she reconnects with her family. Her relationship with Joel blossoms as well. In conclusion, her outlook on love and life seem to have matured in the most moralistic manner. She understands and accepts the faults of her past, but chooses to look forward to the unwritten future. On September 21st, the Diarist declares that she has outgrown her “special friend,” and decides to stop writing in her diary.
Three weeks after this, the Diarist was found dead in her home after her parents returned from the movie. The autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a drug overdose. Whether the overdose was intentional, accidental or unwillingly administered, nobody knows.
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