Thursday, April 1, 2010

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas

This first person narrative memoir details how the author falls into the world of drinking at a very tender age. She details her troubled high school years, and the secret drinking that went on. She then talks about college, when drinking is no longer a secret, but an accepted rite of passage. She seems to think that once college is over, so too will be her drinking days. But when she graduates, the patterns forged in college remain, and then she realizes there might be a problem.

Koren shows in this book how easy it was for her to get involved in drinking as a teenager, and how accessible alcohol was for her and her friends. As she moved on to college, she was already an experienced drinker, and it was like a kid in a candy store. I am amazed she ever graduated; I think she was as well. It is plain to see that her drinking is closely tied to acceptance and a need for love, she can only let herself be close to men when she is drinking.

This is not an easy book to read, but I think it is an important book to read. Under 400 pages, typically a book of this length would take me less than a day. This one took me almost 3. It is not a book you can sit and read for extended lengths of time. The themes are dark, to say the least. The imagery is brutal, the language rough. But I still argue it is important for this book to be read, particularly by parents of teen and preteen girls.

It frightened me to read this book, and I am not even a parent yet. For me, the fright stemmed from how easily I could have been this girl, had I made different choices. However, Koren does not seem to take much responsibility for making the choices that let to this lifestyle; instead she blames societal pressures on women, the alcohol manufacturers and advertisers, pretty much anyone but herself. That frustrated me, along with her contention that she only abused alcohol and was not an alcoholic, as if she did not “really” have a problem. And since she has no real problem, she needs no real help, in her mind. She is in control she thinks. I hope she is right, and this issue does not revisit her in the future.

This book elicited very strong emotions in me, and if I am honest, they were mostly negative. However, I am glad I read this book. It helped the scales fall from my eyes a bit, and opened me to the reality of the world. This woman was the same age as me, and yet lived a very different life than I did. I think this book can be a valuable tool for parents, a cautionary tale of sorts. The book also brought me a sense of peace for the choices I have made in my life.