book review: junk

Junk (also titled Smack) is Melvin Burgess’ story of teen runaways who get into drugs in 1980s England. It’s not explicitly judgmental, and the characters don’t die at the end, but even still, today it feels a lot like an after-school special.

One of the good things about the book is the profusion of viewpoint characters. While most of the story is told through Tar and Gemma’s points of view, we also get sections from the characters surrounding them. Everyone is clearly unreliable when they narrate, be they racist or naive or disapproving or defensive.

In class we heard how much disapproval there was of this book winning a Carnegie medal for YA literature from parents and librarians because it wasn’t clearly disapproving of the practices in the story. I don’t know. It seemed pretty uncelebratory of drug culture to me, kind of like a lighter version of Requiem for a Dream.

2 thoughts on “book review: junk

  1. I read this book when I was about 14 and really enjoyed it. I found it refreshing to read a book about drugs that did not patronise the young reader. It certainly didn’t glorify drugs, but I respected the fact that it did also show the good moments. Teenagers aren’t stupid-they can understand the something might feel good for a while but not necessarily end well. The author has written some other good books for teenagers too, he’s definitely an author I would recommend.

  2. I thought this book was brilliantly written. I would disagree with the after school special assessment as well. Having grown up in an area which has large problems with heroin addiction it seemed a pretty realistic representation of the drug culture and a brave one for the young adult market. There isn’t anything very glamorous about heroin addiction.

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