Author: Koren Zailckas
Title: Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood
Description: Painfully shy and awkward in social situations, Koren Zailckas began drinking (and getting drunk) when she was fourteen. Her stealth and her parents’ denial—despite having to have her stomach pumped at age sixteen—allowed her to continue her pattern of frequent drunkenness through college. This memoir gives a chronological account of her life during that time interspersed with facts about young women and drinking.
Writing style: The writing is surprisingly lucid, considering that most of the book is about being drunk. I’m surprised she could actually remember what happened at the level of detail that she did. By the end of the book, I imagined that I could actually feel what it was like to be drunk—pretty remarkable, since I’m a lifelong teetotaler. I would come away from the book reeling a little, and with a headache.
Audience: This book would be a good read for anyone who enjoys memoirs, for young women, and for anyone who is struggling—or knows someone struggling—with an alcohol problem.
Major ideas: Zailckas contends near the end of the book that while she was a problem drinker, she was not an alcoholic. This has caused some controversy, but I didn’t have a problem with it; the main thing was that she finally realized that she hated how she felt while (and after) she was drunk and that she couldn’t continue to abuse alcohol.
Wrap-up: This book is extreme; it caused me to wonder things like “What were her parents thinking?” “How on earth could she pass even one class in college?” and “How did she manage not to kill herself?” Mostly, it’s a cautionary tale about how our society’s glorification of drinking, and ignoring of problem drinking, can nearly wreck a life before it gets started. It doesn’t get a higher rating because it nearly caused me to become ill every time I picked it up, but it is extremely well-written. 3.5/5*