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

3.6 out of 5 stars 275 customer reviews

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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: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (275 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #970,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Smashed was an amazing book. it should be on the required reading list for many teens and young women. Alchoholism is becoming a bigger and bigger issue with young people today, and i believe it would be beneficial for many people to read, even just to give them a heads up about the reality of alchohol, or even help them to realize their own problem. Smashed opens the doors of a truly amazing mind, and at the same time a former alchoholic, this just goes to show that nobody is perfect, but by confronting your problem you not only help yourself, but others facing the same conflicts.
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Format: Hardcover
Koren is eloquent in her writing. This book serializes the brutal, but honest truth of teenage and college drinking. It illustrates just how caustic alcohol can be to the youth of today. It is a must read for anyone struggling with an alcohol problem within themselves or someone they know. A very creative and thought provoking book worth its weight in gold, to say the least . . .
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Format: Hardcover
"Smashed" was an extremely difficult book to get through, but after sticking it out to the very end, I remained extremely disappointed that there was not more to it.

At some point during the book's conception, someone must have planted in Zailckas's head the idea that her story could become a defining tale of her generation. Apparently, she took it to heart. Pop culture references to the mid-1990's litter nearly every paragraph of the first half of the book. If the narrator isn't listening to music by the Crash Test Dummies, she is making a Seinfeld reference, or comparing her having snuck out of her parents' house to the movie The Shawshank Redemption. A flavor of the times is nice, but the references are so frequent and blatant that it becomes furiously aggravating. When she manages to drop her Trivial Pursuit act, Zailckas constantly goes back to her other old-faithful approach - nearly clichéd metaphors.

However, the biggest fault of "Smashed" is in characterization. Supporting characters throughout the book are introduced and left behind with no consequence, no purpose. Not once does a single character stand out from the page and become important for anything other than simplistic symbolism - "The Childhood Friend of the Past," "the Ongoing College Romantic Interest." Characters who actually appear on a more frequent basis are given little description or basis to ever make them lifelike. Most tragic, however, is the fact that Zailckas's poor characterization is also applicable to herself, the narrator. In any story with a prominent anti-hero protagonist, it is extremely important that readers have some reason to want the main character to succeed.
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