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3.89  ·  Rating details ·  18,558 ratings  ·  769 reviews
Two teens fall in love with each other and heroin. Tar has reasons for running away from home that run deep and sour, whereas Gemma, with her middle-class roots firmly on show, has a deep-rooted lust for adventure. Their first hit brings bliss, the next despair.
Paperback, 293 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by HarperTempest (first published November 14th 1996)
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Jessica It is. It was published as Junk first in, I think, England. Then released in the U.S. as Smack. They just changed the slang to fit the country.

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Average rating 3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  18,558 ratings  ·  769 reviews

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"Not suitable for younger readers" - the warning on the back cover is well worth taking seriously.

A classic and well-deserving Carnegie Medal winner, Junk is painful to read for the reason that it is truthful, accurate and told in the voices of young people falling victim to heroin addiction. They go through the various phases of invincibility delusion, adjustment to ever sinking standards, criminal behaviour, prostitution, desperate pain and physical downward spiralling while telling their lif
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, uk
I read this years and years ago when i was about 11 so i remember it was very different reading it the 2nd time around when I am 26.

I'd rather a YA about drugs any day of the week than some shitty high school romance. Fan girl etc etc etc etc

Cora Tea Party Princess
5 Words: Toxic, addiction, manipulation, love, realisation.

This book is one of my favourites of all time. It's so real and brave and gritty and it's UKYA at its absolute prime. It's difficult and challenging.

At the start, I always love Tar and hate Gemma. By the end I've always changed my mind about both of them. This book allows me to empathise with a type of person I would usually avoid at all costs.

Gemma is probably my favourite character, even though I can't stand her (at all!) at the beginn
I’m conflicted about this book.
On the one hard, it’s absolutely brilliant. It really is. It’s slow to start, but after the first chapter I was pulled in and just kept turning page after page. I was desperate to know what happened next. The character voices sang to me – sang to me through the pages.
On the other hand, the subject matter.
I’m not one to mark a book down purely because of the subject matter. This deals with teenager runaways, teenage junkies, spoilt bitches who get everything they ev
Oct 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Junk is the drugs book against which I judge all drugs books, and so far nothing’s come close to matching Melvin Burgess’s unflinching portrayal of Bristol’s City Road in the 1980s through a heroin-addled lens.

Burgess has no time for either hushed, poetic contemplations on heroin or clumsy, moralistic incitements to Just Say No. Without pretension, he wades into his milieu – with its squats, street kids and punk music – and matter-of-factly delivers a taut, compelling drama. Two naive 14-year-ol
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meet Gemma and Tar, two 14 year old friends. Tar is a nice lad, thoughtful, intelligent and full of puppy love for Gemma, but Tar is also the victim of abuse from his parents. Gemma is a devoted friend, likes a good time and is all for helping Tar. She has parents the opposite of Tar's, they care too much and show this bytbeing too stric for Gema's liking. Both end up on the streets of Bristol to escape their parents, fall in love and get involved with fascinating but destructive couple Lily and ...more
Claire (Book Blog Bird)
Wow. This was a powerful book.

Tar and Gemma are fourteen year old friends. Tar comes from an unhappy background, filled with abuse. Gemma comes from a smothering family when all she wants to do is have a good time. When Tar decides to run away, Gemma supports him and then decides to join him on the streets of Bristol, thinking that being homeless for a while might be a bit of a laugh and alleviate the boredom of her existence.

Once in Bristol, the pair live in a squat for a while and get involved
❄️✨ Kat ✨❄️

This is a tale of a group of runaway teenagers who end up addicted to smack/junk, aka heroin. We watch the characters spiral out of control, thinking "oh, I'll just be able to quit when I want to" which we find out is definitely not the case. Love happens, pregnancies happen (one in which the baby is basically born an addict as well), and death happens in one occurrence.
Every chapter is told from someone else's perspective, which was one of my favorite aspects of this book. We hear about the
This book was recommended to me by a heroin addict, a beloved person who has since tragically died from an overdose. I'm still immersed in grief and read this to look for more answers. As difficult an account as it was, it definitely unsparingly showed the reality of what it's like to be under the influence of such a devastating drug. I can't even imagine what it's like to live with such an addiction but this was the closest I came to glimpsing what so many people have fallen victim to. The hor ...more
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ya-lit-circle, ya
I find myself just thinking "meh" about this book--which is pretty good since I HATED it throughout the first half. I found the characters, particularly Gemma, to be shallow and annoying. Basically I wanted to pull my hair out anytime I read a chapter from Gemma's point of view. Looking back though, I'm not sure that I was supposed to like any of the characters. I imagine that a 14-year-old bratty runaway turned drug-addict would probably be pretty close to how Burgess paints Gemma. So points fo ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4stars
The cover is so fucking ugly but it's actually good ...more
This review contains some spoilers as I mention things that happen in the story to make some points

Well, let me sum up this book in one gif (and I feel this is really appropriate)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Oh, first off I need to say that I'm REALLY CONFUSED about how this is a children's book. I mean, it won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, among others, and I had to read this for my Children's Literature module. I- well, I would not let my child read this under the age of like 15. It's full of drugs (obviousl
Marita Hansen
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.3 stars,but I'm giving it 5 stars on here because I think the book's overall rating on this site is too low.

Genre: Edgy Young Adult.

Subject: A realistic look at heroine addicts in England.

Synopsis: Gemma runs away from home because her parents are too strict, Tar runs away because his father hits him. Different reasons, but the same end result. They become addicted to heroine and will do anything to get a high. Over the span of five years we are taken through their lives and meet the s
Spider the Doof Warrior
May 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
This isn't a terrible book, but I feel like I want to jump into it and smack every single one of these frustrating characters. It does a good job of simply saying FOR THE LOVE OF THE GODDESS'S SWEET BOOBS DON'T DO HEROIN! DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! It will RUIN your life and you'll talk like you know everything and everyone will want to hit you as a result.


So I read this book again and it still stresses me out. I reckon I'm trying to scare myself into not trying heroin since I am on medic
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Been almost a decade since I last read this. Bloody marvellous. Gritty and real, harrowing and beautiful and poignant and heart breaking and funny and terrifying and interesting. Enjoyed it just as much on the second read as I did the first time.

I see a lot of bad reviews from Americans about the writing. Stop expecting 'American English' and read the bloody thing as its written - listen to a Bristol accent on YouTube if it will help!
** spoiler alert **

I first read this in my teens and have been through about five copies of it.
Wonderful because of its harshness.
The nature of addiction shown through the gradual destruction of the characters, the acceptance of doing horrible things in order to get a fix and not a particularly happy ending.
No one is really redeemed, just destroyed.

Chilly SavageMelon
Not as bad as I thought it might have been, another "heroin is bad" tale told from multiple angles centered around some young British runaways in the 80's. A novel that seems it wouldn't be too difficult to write yourself, even if you can't relate to the setting. ...more
Melissa Wehunt
I usually like books like this, but this one didn't do it for me. I was totally bored and didn't care much for the characters. ...more
Amalee Renee
After an exciting trip to a different library near me as my closest is very small and the YA section is even smaller. I went into this library with the intention to get a couple of extra books and ended up coming out with 12 books. I could’ve easily got more but my library account would not let me. This book really stood out to me and not just because of the reflective needle plastered across the front cover. I had already seen reviews saying how it so gritty and one of the best UKYA they had re ...more
Erin Vandemerkt
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I would recommend this book to high school students because it can be an experience that relates to teens. The relatable part of the book for me was not that the Tar and Gemma did drugs, but that they looked for adventure and a way to escape from the world. I could, however, relate to the fact that they lost friends to overdoses. In Tar’s case, doing heroin was the only way to cope when he got abused. I can relate to the moment after Jenny talks about the overdose. After Jenny talks about it “sh ...more
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Smack was one of those books that made me miss dinner and not get any of my homework done. It was as addicting as the drug it describes. The story of two runaway lovers and they're tale of the people they met and the adventerous ride of being an addict of herion, and the struggle of getting out of addiction. Tar, a victim of an abusive father, and an alcoholic mother who clings to Tar's side, decides he's had enough and runaways to Bristle, England. Tar is also in love with Gemma, who runs away ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it did not like it
Tar and Gemma are young teenagers who run away together; Tar has a reason, Gemma doesn’t – Gemma is bored of her life at home and sick of her parents, whereas Tar’s dad regularly beats him. They become squatters, and meet up with other runaways who introduce them to drugs; they are soon addicted, especially to heroin, and end up doing awful things like stealing and prostitution to fund their addiction. But whilst it is the central focus, this novel isn’t really about that; it’s about growing up ...more
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Junk is the unapologetic and unflinching look into the effects of drug addiction, and the best book I have read all year. Set in 1980's Bristol and following the lives of two painfully young runaways, this book looks dead into the center the life of an addict and the devastating consequences that addiction brings.

There was a surge in popularity of drug related films in the 90's and early 00's. And if you have ever seen "Requiem for a Dream" particularly, you will know the exact level of brutalit
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, young-adult
Another find from my mother's house. I think this was the first true 'young adult' book I read at the age of 11 and it really opened my eyes to what the world truely had to offer outside of my fantasy bubble. Themes involved recreational drug abuse, squatting, prostitution and underage pregnancy. At the time there were no books really aimed at young adults, and I think this was certainly a pioneer in offering young readers a more mature theme, with the confidence that they were emotionally ready ...more
Rebecca H.
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Two kids, Tar and Gemma, run away from home. Tar runs escape being beaten, Gemma to have freedom she desires. While on the run, They meet other people "on the run". These people introduce them to drugs. From there they all spiral out of control. They try to get clean but they begin to realize that it is alot harder then they ever could have imagined. The question becomes, will they ever be able to get their lives back on track or will their addiction lead them to their death? ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i love this book...its about these two teens that run away. the boy named Tar ran away first because his dad beats him, and his girlfriend Gemma decides to run away because she cant stand her family....they get addicted to heroine and a lot of really crazy stuff happens.....
Aaliyah Mangum
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shirley Cuypers
Mar 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Original review

I don’t think Junk is powerful. Okay, it gives us the reality of being a junk and what the consequences are, but I don’t think the story is that great. There were many times that the characters were so annoying and were talking about things that weren’t even important. BUT it did affect me, even though it was in a negative way. In the beginning and in the middle of the book, when they didn’t talk about the negative parts of all the drugs, I felt the urge to do it myself. I felt t
Katie Chatfield
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Gemma and Tar, both young, both naive and both through with living with their abusive, strict parents. David or "Tar" a nickname given to him by his friends is the first to run away, and who else to bring along than his love of his life Gemma. Both innocent at the time find themselves living on the streets struggling until a couple of people befriend them leading them into the life of drugs and crime. Not so long after meeting these new group of friends, drugs are introduced and so is stealing. ...more
Aisha Reads Books
I read this book when I was 15 and it made me super emotional. I think it tells an amazing story of drug addiction and how sometimes it truly is a slippery slope.

Amazing writing, but i absolutely HATE gemma. Tar ran away because his father was abusing him and gemma ran away because she thought it would be fun, but even that is forgivable.

What is unforgivable for me is that after all is said and done, (view spoiler)
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Melvin Burgess is a British author of children's fiction. His first book, The Cry of the Wolf, was published in 1990. He gained a certain amount of notoriety in 1996 with the publication of Junk, which was published in the shadow of the film of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, and dealt with the trendy and controversial idea of heroin-addicted teenagers. Junk soon became, at least in Britain, one of ...more

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“You can do anything you want. You don't believe me. You think, she's out of her head. Yeah, I'm out of my head- on being me. What are you on? On being them. You don't even know. I bet you were never given a chance to know. ....Listen. You can be anything you want to be. Be careful. It's a spell. It's magic. Listen to the words.... You are anything...everyone, anyone. ...You listen to them, teachers, parents, politicians. They're always saying, if you steal you're a thief, if you sleep aroung you're a slut, if you take drugs you're a junkie. They want to get inside your head and control you with their fear. ...Don't play their game. Nothing can touch you; you stay beautiful.” 127 likes
“Sometimes maybe you need an experience. The experience can be a person or it can be a drug. The experience opens a door that was there all the time but you never saw it. Or maybe it blasts you into outer space...All that negative stuff. All the pain...It just floted away from me, I just floated away from it...up and away...” 123 likes
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