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Junk

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  15,621 Ratings  ·  649 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, 389 pages
Published March 6th 2003 by Puffin Modern Classics (first published November 14th 1996)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Frankie
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.

Entertaining.
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
...more
Lissa
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
...more
Nicola
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
...more
Lisa
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Kaia James
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoyed Go Ask Alice then you'll enjoy Smack. This book would be dangerously promoting drugs if the reader doesn't finish the novel, as the narrators glorify the drugs while they're still enjoying them. A teen picking up the novel, glancing through, or merely not finishing it would be facing the same consequences as all the kids who learned how to purge their meals from the confessions of teens with eating disorders on Oprah. However, keep reading, and you're as excited about doing heroin ...more
Claire (Book Blog Bird)
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
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.

12/2016

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
...more
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
...more
Jody
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
Heather
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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!
WaterstonesBirmingham
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
** 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.

Grace
Erin Vandemerkt
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
Leah
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Chelsea
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Rebecca H.
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Stephanie (Stepping out of the Page)
I read this a few years ago when I was trying to write a book about drug use and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the book to be very interesting and compelling - a page turner. I liked the way that it was written and it had good pace. The book was quite emotive and it was easy to make connections with the characters. Thoroughly enjoyable.
laura
Feb 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about a heroin addict. (Yes that's what smack means) so just beware...oh and it's not that crazy at least I don't remember it to be it seems to be made more for a young reader. I want to read it again and will update this review when I do to let y'all know.
Tacy
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shirley
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
...more
Katie Chatfield
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
Alicia
Dec 21, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aisha Reads Books
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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)
...more
Chantelle
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 very young runaways, this book examines right into the center the life of addiction and the devastating consequences that being an addict brings.

If you've ever seen the psychological drug movie "Requiem for a Dream", you'll know exactly what you're getting as Burgess also writes Junk with a brutal and raw honesty about the
...more
Laurie
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Smack has become a book I will definitely use in my classroom in excerpt form if I get a chance. It is not only a terrifying and touching tale of the effects of Heroine abuse, it is also a book that touches on multiple voice writing, different language and vocabulary used in different cultures, and how understanding what you are getting yourself into can prevent a lot of heartache, pain, and in some instances death.

Smack is the collective stories of several individuals who encounter Tar and Gemm
...more
Tracey
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Melody
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melody by: Wendy Burton
I was up a goodly portion of the night reading this book. I didn't mean to be. It's that kind of book, though.

Stark, brilliant and uncompromising, this is the story of a couple of kids who find a life less ordinary in the squats of early 1980s England. They also find heroin and love, though they have a hard time telling the two apart.

The way Burgess moves his reader from the head of one kid into the head of the next is a perfect vehicle to show how their interdependent rationalizations function
...more
Michaela
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
If anything, Burgess' Junk has taught - or indeed reminded me - how very prejudice a person I am.

I've always considered myself a very open minded and a non-judgeental person, but erhhh, error. It seems as if I, to some extent, am as bad as the very people I despise. You see, I was convinced, CONVINCED, that Junk was going to be yet another story about drugs and rock and roll; resulting in a moral tale instructing us to stay away from narcotics. Drugs are bad, stay away and all that shit, but NO.
...more
Nicky
Jun 04, 2014 rated it liked it
This book has been on my shelf for years and I can't even remember how I came by it. I hadn't realised it was aimed at teenagers until I started reading it. At first I was a bit horrified and didn't think I would like to let my kids read it. It was however, incredibly well told and written and I found I had to know what the outcome was. I think perhaps it serves as a warning to parents as to how in trying too hard to protect their kids they can inadvertently push them towards the things they wou ...more
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The Ultimate Teen...: Smack (Junk) - Melvin Burgess 1 2 Dec 01, 2014 11:59AM  
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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
More about Melvin Burgess...

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“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...” 119 likes
“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.” 113 likes
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