Smashed is a brutally honest memoir about what it is like to have a drinking problem that begins years before you become the legal drinking age. What makes this book different from many other books about drinking is that the author, Koren Zalickas, was not actually addicted to alcohol in a physical way.

Instead, she was using it as an emotional crutch. I think most people are aware of the physical consequences that can happen after years of binge drinking. What isn’t talked about are the social and emotional aspects. Smashed shines a light on what happens to a girl who starts drinking at a young age and who continues through young adulthood.

My overall impression of Smashed was: “This could have been me.” I think many other women will have that same reaction. If certain portions of my life had happened just a little bit differently, I might have ended up making the same choices that Koren Zalickas made.

My first alcoholic beverage was a water glass full of box-wine. It was handed to me by my great-aunt, in front of my mother, at a family party. I was 12. My great-aunt insisted I was old enough for a glass of wine. Of course, I drank it. I got a nice, buzzy, feeling that lasted the rest of the night (and made dealing with my relatives a whole lot more tolerable). Despite being told that I would wake up sick, I did not have a hangover the next day. I have never had a hangover.

Koren’s first taste of alcohol happened after her friend Natalie sort of dared her to try it. The girls were both 14, and alone (for the moment) at Natalie’s parent’s cottage. The liquor cabinet was not locked, and probably wasn’t carefully monitored. The two each took a sip of Southern Comfort.

Natalie filled two juice bottles with Southern Comfort and the girls took it with them to a party. Natalie’s dad dropped them off, and no one questioned what they were drinking. Koren shares her bottle with the other girls and discovers that doing so gets her a lot of attention. It is the attention she craves more than the alcohol itself. Suddenly, she’s everyone’s friend and they all want to hang out with her at this party.

At the beginning of the book, Koren Zailckas includes the following paragraph:

Girls don’t drink in the name of women’s liberation, for the sake of proving we can go drink for drink with the boys. We don’t drink to affirm that we are “sassy” or “self-confident,” which newsweeklies have lately suggested. Nor is our drinking a manifestation of “girl power” or “gender freedom” or any of the other phrases so many sociologists interchange with happiness. On the contrary, most every girl I’ve known drank as a expression of her unhappiness. I too drank in no small part because I felt shamed, self-conscious, and small.

Who among us hasn’t felt “shamed, self-conscious, and small” when they were teens or young adults? It can be emotionally excruciating to try and make new friends, to tell a joke in front of a group of people, or to express a deeply held opinion when you feel completely inadequate.

Alcohol can take those feelings away, leaving a young person free to make mistakes without experiencing anxiety. Alcohol also provides an easy excuse for having done something stupid. The problem is that people who make social mistakes while inebriated don’t learn from them. Sometimes, they might not even remember what happened.

Koren Zailckas points out that drinking left her stunted. She notes that at age 23, she is often mistaken for a 19 year old (or a 17 year old when she pulls her hair back.) She has a childishness that most people grow out of. She struggles to make friends while sober. It is as though she did not experience the portion of growing-up that causes a person to become an adult.

It’s not just her, though. In the beginning of the book, she notes that research about women who started drinking regularly while they were preteens shows that most of them get “stuck” there. Their emotional development stalls at the age where they had their first drink. These woman might also dress like children, play with toys, and walk away from emotional conflict.

Smashed is a book that every woman should read. It provides insight about women and drinking that I’ve not seen anywhere else. If you were among those who started drinking at an early age, you might find yourself nodding your head in recognition through parts of this book. If not, it is an important read for women who have daughters who are starting to use alcohol in social situations.

This book review of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood – by Koren Zailckas is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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