Julie Suzanne's Reviews > Smack

Smack by Melvin Burgess
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's review
Oct 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: coming-of-age, abuse
Read in October, 2009

Gingerbread, Can Steffie Come out to Play, and Go Ask Alice. If you loved any of these novels containing painfully obnoxious teens who mess up their lives, than you'll love Smack. This 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 heroine as you were after watching "Trainspotting" (which forever connected the image of smack in my mind with dead, blue infants).

Burgess eerily captures the rationale teens use to justify stupid choices so accurately, that it was embarrassing to remember that I was just like that at one time. Teens don't just decide one day that they're going to be a junkie and a prostitute because that's a great career choice, but rather experience a slow decline that seems perfectly rational and even idealistic; it's scary. For the record, I've never been a junkie or a prostitute, but the voice of the female characters was so familiar that I've left this novel thinking that I avoided that fate merely by the luck of the draw. Had I been in the wrong place at the wrong time, who knows? And that is pretty scary. My favorite line: "The need for self-deception in a situation of dependency is quite staggering." And I don't think this applies only to a dependency on any particular substance: it can be dependency on people, security, situations, a job even. Really got me thinking.

Burgess creates detestable characters who are entirely sympathetic, forcing the reader to consider how fragile and vulnerable we may all be. If a teen were to stick with the novel and finish it, I'd recommend it, but not if they were going to dabble in it without seriousness. I particularly appreciate Burgess's ability to honestly portray disturbing issues without any gore or unnecessary imagery. For example, a girl is brutally sexually assaulted, and the way it was presented, I didn't get physically or emotionally ill by it for a change; I could still grapple with all of the implications of the event without being destroyed (as I was by reading "Kite Runner"). Burgess leaves enough to the imagination but also exposes enough X-rated situations faced by the characters to make it realistic enough (as opposed to Go Ask Alice).

In all, it kept me reading, left me thinking, and overall exposes sad truths in an 80's British Punk scene (which was a delightful treat!). I DID wish that I had known about the glossary of unfamiliar British slang in the back! It would've saved me some time and frustration. I had to read the term "screw" in context over a dozen times to get that it meant a prison guard!

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Reading Progress

10/14 page 12
09/22 marked as: read

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