“It was a love story. Me, Gemma, and junk…”
Too often in teen fiction, taboo subjects such as sex, drugs and abortion are ignored. This contributes to a general lack of discussion in those areas, that can sometimes lead to bad choices. Having said that, the purpose of a book shouldn’t solely be to incite debate. Luckily, Junk is much more than a megaphone to the lips of a strong opinion, it is a story with heart, sadness and a glimpse of redemption.
When 14-year-old Tar runs away from home to escape his abusive father, it is only natural that his girlfriend Gemma should follow. After all, the alternative is to stick around in Minely to be smothered by their controlling parents. What starts out as an adventure, quickly spirals out of control however, with the introduction of that most evil of fiends; heroin.
Junk is certainly not a positive drug novel but it also doesn’t rely on scare tactics or lies. Instead, author Melvin Burgess is honest about smack. Honest about the temptation and the initial euphoria, but also honest about the dark night of the soul that usually follows. Crucially, the book never preaches, it simply tells a story that is true for thousands of people, some of whom are teenagers, many of which will be sleeping on our streets this very night. Not every heroin user is homeless or a prostitute of course, but enough are to ensure that Junk retains its gritty realism throughout, no matter how much the characters lives fall apart.
As YA novels go, there are others that are more exciting than Junk, it is difficult to identify one that is as important however. The kind of book that will have genuinely changed lives. Is there any higher praise than that? Be warned though, Junk is almost certainly a gateway novel into Trainspotting…
As a final reflection, it is important to note that the novel received an overwhelmingly negative response in the right wing press, a sure sign that Burgess did something right!