There are a lot of reasons to dislike this book, but let’s start with the main one:
Although Sparks always presents herself as merely the discoverer and editor of the diaries, records at the U.S. Copyright Office show that in fact she is listed as the sole author for all but two of them.
So, this book presents itself as a cautionary tale about the dangers of drugs, bad girls, and most of all the occult — but in actual fact it’s an object lesson in lying. There’s no evidence that Bernice Sparks was “Dr. Bernice Sparks” or even that she had experience as a therapist. The boy’s family say the work is largely fiction:
According to a book written by Barrett’s brother Scott (A Place in the Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal), and interviews with the family, Sparks used roughly 25 entries of 212 total from Barrett’s actual journal. The other entries were fictional, based on case histories from other teenagers Sparks worked with, and interviews of friends and acquaintances of Barrett.
The thing is, you don’t need his family’s word for it to know that this thing is a huge concoction of lies. Unless you’re currently off your much-needed meds and have been reduced to believing that demons hang out in teenagers’ bedrooms, you can pick out the “totally didn’t happen” bits quite easily.
But if you need more reason to hate this thing than “it’s an exploitative pack of lies,” try these:
1. Jay’s descriptions of the girlfriend he supposedly loves:
Her letters are incredibly dumb but maybe her dumbness is what makes her so precious to me…. (p. 30).
Sometimes I’m embarrassed because you’re such a dumb-assed little blond with not so good grammar but what you do for my ego is something else! (p. 18)
1.b. Not to mention the next girl he dates:
I was out with Lucy Loose Legs….(p. 79)
1.c. And the other kids at the rehab centre he gets sent to:
I never did belong in this hole. Brad and Dell and I have all done crummy mean little rotten things all through our lives, but we aren’t second-class reject retards. (p. 42)
1.d. And best of all, his mother:
What if mom dies? Who will make the bread? (p. 70)
2. The editorial-voice intrusions where it feels like Beatrice Sparks has forgotten this thing is supposed to be written by a teenaged boy and not a middle-aged “therapist”:
The long hair and weird clothes seeking outward changes (we didn’t realize that the change must come from within), anti-values establishing own peer group. (p. 32)
3. The Chick Tract approach wherein everything leads inevitably to the occult, the appearance of a demon in your bedroom, and your eventual death. Things contributing to Jay’s destruction (according to this book) are too numerous to mention, but here are a few of the “dangerous” interests he dabbles in:
Debbie and Brad and Dell and I are studying about Hare Krishna and Zen and stuff. (p. 26)
Pete’s into Astara and all forms of the occult. He talks so easily about intuition, meditation, ESP, auras, life after death, the oversoul, how much karma a person must erase before they are liberated, how they can better influence the world in the new age, how they can recognize their soul mate, mysticism, esoteric science, hidden teachings of the ancients, the equations of life, etc. (p. 35)
[Just in case you miss the point that that's a list of Bad Stuff, Pete later turns out to be a pedophile.]
Did Atlantis once genuinely exist? (p. 38)
I even hate Pete and his Ouija-board fortune telling….(p. 43)
In a very low, muted voice she told me how, in the dark evening in the hills of Haiti, the drums began to throb in the warm night air and the Houngan priests conducted sacred secret ceremonies requesting favors from Ibo, Damballah and other gods.
Nothing says “authentic religious experience” quite like a white girl in her bedroom in the suburbs of Utah using a dramatic voice to teach you about Haiti.
But if I haven’t put you off ever reading this book, there are a few amusing moments.
I might as well get the high point of the book out of the way first, and by “high point” I mean the deaths. Oh, not the suicide of the teenager whose life Sparks ripped off to create this nonsense. I’m awful, but I’m not that awful; his death was tragic and horrible, as is every suicide.
No, what I’m talking about is how Beatrice Sparks, apparently not satisfied by the amount of drama provided by a guy shooting himself, also kills off his two best friends in this book, and in the least believable, most urban-legend-bullshitty way possible.
Now, I have no idea if the friends were real. I suspect they were, because some of the more believable parts of this book are the moments when “Jay” writes about his two best buds and the various silly things they did together.
I also don’t know — but I really doubt — whether they both died in the weeks immediately before his death. It sounds unlikely. I don’t know whether “Jay” shot himself in the right temple. If you’re going to kill yourself with a gun the choices are limited, so that could have happened.
But what didn’t happen, and I’m comfortable saying I’m absolutely sure about this part, is that three best friends died within weeks of one another because they all took part in a ceremony in which each boy “dedicated his auwa” to some unnamed darkness.
Seriously, no. Just fucking no. And Beatrice Sparks should have been slapped in the face for daring to write such utter tripe about a real person’s death. Suicide is a tragedy, you lying witch; it is not an appropriate basis for your money-grubbing fantasies about the glamour of occultism.
Which probably leaves you wondering why I mention the deaths as a high point. The thing is, in order to tie “Jay’s” suicide to the made-up ceremony, she has the boys point to their right temples as they dedicate their auwas (whatever the hell THOSE are; don’t even get me started on the made-up words in this thing). So Jay shoots himself there — which again, could be how the real boy died; I hate to think about it — but to make it all match up she has to invent some extra ridiculousness:
Brad was just peacefully driving out of the Blue Moo when the dumb truck turned the corner and, running with its left front wheel on the high curb, crashed over the hood of his car. Dell said the bumper hit him directly on the right temple like a giant hammer, killing him instantly. (pp. 177-8.)
I’m sorry, but a truck is kind of a big thing. If one creams your car, “hit you directly in the temple” is not an adequate way to describe what happens. “Mashed your whole entire head” might just about do it, but that wouldn’t fit in well enough with the folklore Sparks is trying to create, so she goes for the flat-out lie. Awesome. I keep trying to picture what she’s describing, and all I can come up with is that it must have been a pointy truck.
So then Dell dies. Of course he does.
Kyle started pulling and pulling and the kids started screaming but Dell’s head was down and the bumper hit him guess where? Directly on the right temple…just like Brad!
Again, aside from the unbelievable tone of this (“the bumper hit him guess where?” sounds neither grief-stricken nor terrified), bumpers are long and large and have a car behind them. They do not hit you in such a way that you can narrow it down to “directly on the right temple.”
Other highlights? Well, I like the way “Jay” constantly evaluates other men for attractiveness. Here’s the pedo occult-loving guy from rehab:
He’s a gorgeous, slick, slim, trim jock…
More hilariously still, here’s the demon, Raul, who shows up in Jay’s bedroom to possess him:
Probably in his late twenties, good looking, sharp and thin, wearing a gray kind of tight-fitting jump suit thing.
But in the end, no matter how many inadvertent LOLs the book provides, it’s impossible to overlook the sheer awfulness of a woman glamming-up some poor dead kid’s life, and smearing his reputation, by sticking a bunch of made-up occultism in a book and calling it his journal.