How Young is too Young to be Smashed?

Smashed: Story of a drunken girlhood

Koren Zailckas. Smashed: Story of a drunken girlhood. London, England: Penguin Books, 2005.

Smashed: Story of a drunken girlhood by: Koren Zailckas, outlines the history of how alcohol shaped the life of a young, suburban, girl growing up in Massachusetts. Koren takes on her journey through an adolescence strongly influenced by drinking. Together we experience some of her most thrilling moments, such as her very first encounter with the substance,

"When Natalie twists of the black plastic cap and hands the bottle to me, I take it as part of an implicit equation about how drinking dovetails people. . .I think this bottle might level the differences between Natalie and me. . ."

Koren has many first encounters including the first time she gets drunk, the first time she gets caught drinking, the first time she gets her stomach pumped and many other firsts after those. She finds herself in a downward spiral driven by alcohol. Her experience with alcohol includes some of the most shameful situations she has ever found herself in, like the danger she encounters when she loses her friend on vacation in Ocean City.

"From now on, whenever I look at Natalie, the memory of her face last night, sheening with sweat and smeared makeup, will float to mind like a helium balloon. I will be sickened by the thought that I was responsible for losing her because I mounted the stairs to Greg's studio . . .She will call me on the telephone and say, 'You should be ashamed.'"

Another disturbing experience follows the lost friend scenario. Koren wakes up to find that she is in an unfamiliar place, not wearing any underwear. It was her first blackout. She later finds out that she passed out on a dock in a mess of her own vomit, unable to regain consciousness.

Koren delivers a startlingly accurate account of what it's like to be a typical, teenage girl in the suburbs, struggling with confidence, self-image, relationships, and school. What is even more startling is the level of honesty Zailckas commits herself to. Here, we have an opportunity to examine life from the perspective of an inexperienced participant, as well as from that of an older, more mature mind. The normalcy of the characters, and the relevance of the topic make for a memoir that students will easily relate to as Koren's lifestyle is, sadly, not anything out of the ordinary.

Zailckas' descriptive, witty, and truthful style makes for an enjoyable read that is neither overwhelmingly dark, nor sugar coated.

Recommendations for Teachers
Overall, the book itself is not appropriate to teach by itself in the classroom. However, it can be used as an accompanying text. A discussion about drinking can help lead into an introduction of the particular book that is being taught. The book can be accompanied with Shakespeare's play Othello. The Seven deadly sins is the theme in this play. In Othello, Cassio becomes drunk and therefore is easily manipulated by Iago. Koren, in Smashed often is manipulated when she becomes drunk so this may be a good bridge into the sin of gluttony, associated with Cassio in Othello. A fun exercise can be done where seven groups are made and each group picks a seven deadly sin out of a hat. The groups can discuss which characters exhibit that sin in the play.

Smashed can also be paired with The Scarlet Letter. The two books can be linked with a discussion or assignment about gender roles of that time period, then versus now, and how the expectations are similar and different. Another book Smashed can be paired with is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Common threats between the stories are that they are both about women learning life lessons, being manipulated, and having low self-esteem. The teacher can make up scenarios concerning women that are relevant to the text such as being manipulated and the students can act out solutions to the problem presented. Self-esteem exercises can be done such as each student writing what he or she likes about them self, as well as each student writing something positive about every student in the class. This book has strong content so be sure that the students understand this is showing them what NOT to do and not glorifying drinking.

Koren Zailckas
external image KorenZailckas.jpg

Koren Zailckas was born in Saudi Arabia in 1980 and grew up in the Boston suburbs. Her book, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood is a memoir of her past alcohol experiences and struggles. Zailckas wrote the book when she was twenty-three. She tells the story of how she started drinking when she was fourteen years old; including all the fuzzy detailed situations that shaped the person she is today. Her drinking started, not because of family problems but because of her friends and peers. Although drinking in general is threatening to one's life, Zailckas realized this when she is sixteen, after the night she was rushed to the hospital where her stomach had to be pumped. Her drinking then snowballed into an uncontrollable abuse of alcohol as she entered into college. All of Zailckas' social activities revolved around booze, leaving school a lower priority. It seemed as though her insecurities and low self-esteem were a large part of the author's drinking habits. The blurry and blacked out nights led her to an unwelcomed sexual encounter. Zailckas continued to drink throughout college while she studied under Mary Karr at Syracuse University. She now resides in an apartment in New York City.

Writing the book was said to be therapeutic for Koren Zailckas. It gave her a chance to look back on previous experiences and then quit drinking alcohol altogether. Even now, Zailckas doesn't see herself as being an alcoholic but abusing the substance instead. Smashed was Koren Zailckas' first book and it appeared on shelves in 2005 where it topped the best sellers list of the New York Times.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
This is a commercial made by M.A.D.D it depicts the dangers of excessive drinking, portrayed with dolls.

This video shows a young girl who has consumed too much alcohol. She is at a police station. This video shows that even people sworn to protect the public can take advantage of a situation. This type of manipulation is something that can happen to any young girl that drinks too much like Zailckas did in her younger age.

This video called "50 Reasons Not To Overdrink" shows the unglamorous side to excessive drinking. (Not suitable for young children.)

Additional Resources:
Koren Zailckas' website- check out Koren's website for more information: includes book information, news, appearences and how to contact the author.

Buy Smashed- Get this book at Amazon.com.

NIAA- answers to why adolescents drink, the risks and how it can be prevented.

Alcoholics Anonymous- site with information on how to get help or help someone who may have an alcohol problem.

Information for Teens

Are you a responsible drinker? Take the quiz and find out.

Teens and the dangers of binge drinking

Addiction Help Services- need help or know someone who may need help, here's a site that will help end the addiction

M.A.D.D.- Mothers Against Drunk Driving website.

S.A.D.D-Students Against Drunk Driving website.

--Harris, Roberts, Vaillancourt.