Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher.  Harper Perennial (1998), 320 pages.

“It was that simple: One minute I was your average nine-year-old, shorts and a T-shirt and long brown braids, sitting in the yellow kitchen, watching Brady Bunch reruns, munching on a bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot. The next minute I was walking, in a surreal haze I would later compare to the hum induced by speed, out of the kitchen, down the stairs, into the bathroom, shutting the door, putting the toilet seat up, pulling my braids back with one hand, sticking my first two fingers down my throat, and throwing up until I spat blood.”

This book is unquestionably very well-written and fascinating, yet I struggled with how to review it. The author is, quite simply, a rather unlikable person. I hate looking at her photo on the cover, I’m glad I don’t know her, and I don’t really wish her well. This was troubling to me because it seems one should like (or at least have empathy for) the character one is reading about, particularly if the book is a memoir. Is this a prerequisite for a recommendation? I wondered.

The writing is indisputably good. Her childhood remembrances embody the perfect child’s voice, she shows wonderful self-awareness (except for two significant lapses toward the end) and her details and general observances are authentic and even humorous despite the subject matter.

This review first appeared in February 2004
By Donna Long