Thursday, October 25, 2007

Review: Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood

Koren Zailckas's Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood was released last year amidst a great deal of noise and fanfare. A memoir that chronicles Zailckas's adventures with alcohol from age 14 to young adulthood, Smashed necessarily inspired endless "lifestyle" stories about girls drinking to excess in the nation's newspapers. I am happy I waited a year to read it, because I now could appreciate Smashed as an individual title and its worth as a crossover title for the Young Adult market.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood begins with Zailckas's first drinking episode and continues to cover each successive bender in mortifying and depressing detail. An early drinking bout ends in alcohol poisoning, another in, perhaps, unintended sexual intercourse. Zailckas describes a youth devoted to and obliterated by drinking. And, she shows she's not alone. Her friends--in high school, in college, and after--live similar lives and together they share friendships forged from and cemented with alcohol.

Zailckas blames her alcohol abuse on deep feelings of insecurity and social anxiety. She also claims she was not an alcoholic, but, rather, an alcohol abuser. I am sure more than a few addiction specialists would disagree with her, but, in the end, her definitions are not that important to her story. What is important is that Zailckas writes well enough to tell a compelling tale, one you follow even when you want to smack the storyteller and tell her to grow up. Zailckas's prose is, in fact, so elegant, so poetic, that I hope she turns to fiction in the future. (Zailckas is a dab hand at the unexpected and beautiful metaphor.)

Zailckas's conclusion to Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood is particularly successful. (Though quite a few Amazon reviewers disagree with me.) She links girlhood drinking to feminist concerns, including and not limited to deceptive and sexist advertising campaigns, frat boy behavior, and, most importantly, girls' tendency to swallow their anger instead of expressing it openly. It's a worthy and lucid feminist rant, one that had me shouting "sing it, sister!" from the beginning.

So, is Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood a crossover title? Is it suitable for teen readers? Definitely. In fact, I'd recommend Smashed to teens ages 14 and up. It's a cautionary tale, though, so I'd leave it lying around the house instead of handing it over them directly. The cover alone is enough to attract their attention.