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Beatrice Sparks (January 15, 1917 – May 25, 2012) was an American therapist and Mormon youth counselor who was known for producing books purporting to be the "real diaries" of troubled teenagers. The books deal with topical issues such as drug abuse, Satanism, teenage pregnancy or AIDS, and are presented as cautionary tales. Although Sparks presented 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.
Beatrice Ruby Mathews Sparks was born in Goldburg, Custer County, Idaho and grew up in Logan, Utah. She began working with teenagers in 1955, after attending the University of California at Los Angeles and Brigham Young University. She worked as a music therapist at Utah State Mental Hospital and taught continuing education courses at BYU.
Critics have called Sparks's qualifications and experience into question. Researchers have been unable to find a record of the Ph.D. she claimed on book jackets and in her resumé. One interviewer wrote that Sparks was "vague about specifics" when asked about her counselling qualifications and professional experience.
Sparks stated that her experiences working with troubled adolescents made her want to produce cautionary tales that would keep other teens from falling into the same traps. Her first work, Go Ask Alice, was published under the byline "Anonymous" in 1971. In interviews conducted over the next few years, Sparks identified herself as the book's editor and related that Alice consisted partly of the actual diary of a troubled teen, and partly of fictional events based on her experiences working with other teens. Sparks was unable to produce the original diary for critics. Later editions of the book contained the standard disclaimer: "This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, places, characters, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."
In 1973, Marcella Barrett, a Pleasant Grove, Utah woman whose son, Alden, had committed suicide at age 16, read a newspaper interview with Sparks and became convinced that she was the right person to bring her son's diary to the public. The result was Jay's Journal, which tells the story of a teenage boy drawn into Satanism. Barrett's family was horrified by the book. They insisted that Alden had never been involved with the occult and that Sparks had used only 21 entries from his journal (out of 212 supposed entries that appeared in the finished book). Sparks stood by the book, claiming that she got the extra material from letters and interviews with Alden's friends.
After Jay's Journal, Sparks produced many more "real diaries", including It Happened to Nancy: By an Anonymous Teenager (dealing with AIDS), Almost Lost: The True Story of an Anonymous Teenager's Life on the Streets (gang violence), Annie's Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, A Pregnant Teenager, Treacherous Love: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager (pupil seduced by teacher), Kim: Empty Inside: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager (eating disorders) and Finding Katie: The Diary of Anonymous, A Teenager in Foster Care.
All these books were published with the byline 'Anonymous'. Some of them credit Sparks as editor; others (such as Go Ask Alice) do not mention her at all. Almost Lost and Kim: Empty Inside are the only books for which Sparks does not claim copyright as author of the entire work. For both these books, Sparks lays claim only to the editing, compilation and some (unspecified) additional material. The U.S. Copyright Office record for Kim adds the note that some material is taken from a preexisting diary.