Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Book 14 of 2014: Junk by Melvin Burgess

When I started reading the books for my OU literature course it felt like I had masses to get through and that I’d be reading for ever, especially when I followed up my first course with Children’s Literature. So there was a bit of a strange feeling about reading Melvin Burgess’s Junk as it was the last one I was going to read for my degree.

It’s a story which is told through the eyes of multiple characters (some only get one chapter, whereas others get many) who are either young runaways, squat dwellers, drug addicts or connected to one of these three groups in some way. It ostensibly tells the story of Tar and his girlfriend, Gemma, who run away from home and then gradually find themselves sucked into a culture of drugs, the junk of the title. In America it was released as Smack.

I can remember a friend at school reading this when I was about thirteen and I knew that she enjoyed it, though I’d never really felt inspired to pick it up myself. At the time when she read it I was more into funny books, poetry, fantasy and non-fiction. I suspect that she recommended it to me but I never picked it up. However because my friend enjoyed it so much I had a fair idea of what the story was about as well as what would happen during it.

That kind of knowledge about what was coming, without actually having read it before was a little distracting. I think I probably would’ve gotten into it a little more if I’d actually had it all coming to me fresh, rather than distilled through someone else first. Perhaps I just should’ve read it when my friend was raving about it in secondary school.

I have to admit that I really didn’t like many of the characters. Most of them really annoyed me, even Tar who I felt the most sympathy for in the beginning as his reason for leaving home was to escape an alcoholic mother and abusive father; Gemma just left because she was bored and seemed to want to create animosity between herself and her parents. I spent the whole book just wanting to give most of them a good slap.

Then again, I did a bit of a one-eighty with Gemma as the book goes on and she realises just how deep she’s gotten herself into things. She realises that she does have a problem and that she can’t do anything about it on her own; she needs help. I guess I did kind of start to respect her at that point. I liked the change that she went through.

Part of the study did involve looking at why Burgess wrote the book and I couldn’t help but think that some of the scenes were there for shock value. Particularly Lily when she has her baby; those bits made me especially angry, there’s a bit where she’s breastfeeding and talking about how good this makes the veins on her breasts for injecting heroin and I felt sick. Then again, I suppose there are actual Lilys out there in the world, which makes it even worse somehow.

I think it probably would have been the sort of book that would’ve appealed to me as a teenager and I kind of wish I could’ve read it then rather than as an adult. I can’t help but view Gemma and Tar and the others’ actions through the eyes of an adult now and I don’t know if I might have been a little bit more sympathetic towards them when I was the same age as them. All the same, I’m hoping to read more of Burgess’s books in the future.


  1. Nice review! I've been meaning to read this one for ages

    1. You really should, it's a really well-written book. I hated most of the characters but that was because of how they were written. ;-)

    2. http://randomramblingsthoughtsandfiction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/rapid-reviews-yorkshire-shepherdess-by.html

      I think you might like that one :)


Let me know what you think. :-)