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Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood Hardcover – February 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This isn't just one girl's story of sneaking drinks in junior high, creeping out for night-long keg parties in high school and binge-drinking weeknights and weekends through college—it's also a valuable cautionary tale. At 24 (her present age), Zailckas gave up drinking after a decade of getting drunk, having blackouts and experiencing brushes with comas, date rape and suicide. She weaves disturbing statistics (from Harvard School of Public Heath studies and elsewhere) into her memoir: most girls will have their first drink by age 12, and will have the experience of being drunk by 14; teenage girls drink as much as their male peers, but their bodies process it badly (they get drunk faster, stay drunk longer and are more likely to die of alcohol poisoning); and date rape and booze go hand-in-hand. Zailckas had alcohol poisoning at 16 after a night of downing shots at a party with friends, but having her stomach pumped in the emergency room and enduring a month of being grounded didn't check her desire to drink. Fraternity keg parties led to drunken sexual encounters not-quite-remembered; drinking began to replace intimacy. Alcohol defined Zailckas's adolescence and college years to such an extent that, as she tells it, she lacks the tools to be an adult: she's unsure how to maintain relationships and unclear about sex without an alcohol buzz. Zailckas is unsparingly insightful and acutely aware of what drinking can and does do to girls. She explains that while kids are taught that drugs are always dangerous, alcohol is perceived as an acceptable rite of passage. Her book is deeply moving, written in poetic, nuanced prose that never obscures the dangerous truths she seeks to reveal.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Zailckas doesn't have the "genetically based reaction to alcohol that addiction counselors call 'a disease.'" But throughout her adolescence and early adulthood, she abused alcohol heavily: "I drank for the explicit purpose of getting drunk, getting brave, or medicating my moods." Her first sips of hard liquor, before she started high school, hit her with the force of a crush-- "as hopeful and as heartbreaking as kissing a boy." By the time she entered Syracuse University, she had already been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, and her binge drinking through college, wholly supported by the Greek system, contributed to heartbreaking, empty sexual encounters and difficulty relating to anyone without "the third wheel" of alcohol. Zailckas muses about the societal factors that contribute to the astonishing rise in women's drinking. Most unnerving, though, are her honest, detailed accounts of her own profound abuse, which was accepted, encouraged, and chillingly commonplace; thousands of young women share her story. Like Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story (1996), this raw, eye-opening memoir will deepen readers' understanding of American culture and perhaps their own lives. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (February 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033766
  • ISBN-13: 978-1419353239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on February 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written, seriously scary book that will likely have many readers cringing when they read about the problems alcohol led to for Zailckas. As someone with a young daughter, I found it to be both a cautionary tale and an engrossing memoir. For anyone who has an alcoholic or binge drinker in their family, you'll be able to relate on some level. For me, it was interesting to hear about the experience from the perspective of a young woman.

The author writes lucidly and poetically about her past, showing the effects of her lifestyle without ever trying to invoke pity for anything that happened to her in the past. It makes one wonder how common her story, or at least certain elements of it, are to many young women.

Although the material is often heavy and depressing, this one will keep your attention. A terrific and frightening account.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By resident_out_of_touch on July 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I started reading this book because I recently concluded an increasingly rambunctious four years of partying at SU, and it sounded like it'd be interesting to read someone else's accounts of and insights into the same drunken stumbles I made countless times across campus hill. The real impact of the book set in when I realized how much it resonates with my own experiences, and how relevant it is because of that. Granted I'm a guy, was not in the greek system, have not been date-raped, and have not come anywhere near the levels of excess Zailckas describes. Even so, almost every episode she recounts runs in parallel with at least one or two of my own experiences, and judging by how commonplace the sight of un-hinged drunken students is at any college campus, I'm sure that this book could act as a near biography for a lot of people other than the author.

I read some critics who complained that this story didn't need to be written, since everyone knows that college kids drink, or since Koren Zailckas wasn't even in the running for "worst college drunkard" (I wondered if she would mention the frat boys who fought each other with billiards balls in socks my freshman/her senior year at SU, or the countless sirens every weekend as the paramedics pulled up to the latest case of alcohol poisoning). I kind of think that's what makes it so worthwhile though. Here is this universal american college experience that we all uncomfortably relate to, laid out for us to examine a bit more objectively than we could from any other perspective. We aren't meant to "feel sorry" for her, as so many reviewers appear to think.
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61 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In 'Smashed', Koren Zailckas examines her history with drinking in a frank and brutally honest manner. From the day she first experimented with alcohol at age 14 to the severe binge-drinking that defined her college years, she takes you on a journey of excess and provides the reasons for her escalating problem. The situations she gets into are dark (waking up naked in a man's bed with the suspicion that she had been the victim of date-rape, having her stomach pumped after passing out on a dock at age 16, etc.), making for a compelling read that is at once hard to put down and difficult to hear. Looking back, Zailckas can see the reasons for her drinking and does a decent job getting across some explanations that are hard to explain to anyone who hasn't felt the same way. The most interesting revelation in the book is that Zailckas is not actually an alcoholic, but a victim of alcohol abuse. When she reaches out to a counselor on the internet she discovers that she has none of the genetic characteristics that describe alcoholism. Zailckas' problem is that excess was encouraged to her in a society that more and more sees teen drinking as a rite of passage instead of the problem it is. Her depression and insecurity made her an easy target to lose control, and no one was able to see her problem for what it was. 'Smashed' exposes a new social problem that has not been acknowledged in the media so far, and Zailckas is to be commended for bringing it out for discussion.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By LA Mama on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After having wanted to read this book since it came out, I finally got it and read it very quickly. Koren's a pretty decent writer which is good for her since it was the only thing that elevated this book from its pedestrian story. The tale itself is no different than tons of girls' I know college drinking experience. We called those girls alcoholics, by the way, even though Koren self-consciously asserts early in the book that she is not an alcoholic. I got the impression that Koren felt she had to make that distinction so that this wouldn't be just another alcoholic girl's story, but rather something that could be sensationalized: every college girl across the country is getting drunk four nights a week and passing out in random guys' beds!!! Oh my god, stop the presses!

While Koren's story is sad, there's not much about it that makes it unique. Furthermore, at 24 and two minutes into her recovery-- whoops, I mean "cessation"-- Koren isn't far enough past her drinking days to really have come to terms with it, which is probably why she comes across still very depressed and despondent, and the book comes to an abrupt, somewhat unresolved end.

If you are interested in reading a sensationalized story about an upper middle class white girl's drunken escapades, this is your book. If you are interested in reading a book about an alcoholic woman who is really being honest with herself, this book is not for you.
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