Books & Reviews

Junk – Melvin Burgess📚

“As it is, I like to do a little junk – not enough to be out of it, just enough, you know, so I’m not totally all there” (Junk, P.192)

Unapologetically raw, Junk is an honest insight into the life of two teenage runaways come heroin addicts, and the characters they meet along the way.

Set in Bristol in the 1980s, Melvin Burgess tackles this disturbing and grim underbelly of society with the utmost respect. He explores the dangerous world of escapism through drugs in which some teens find themselves irreversibly trapped; nothing is held back.

Tar (David), is a 14 year old runaway, desperate to escape his violent home. Gemma, his sort-of girlfriend, simply craves the adventure.She joins him with hopes and dreams of a life without her parent’s rules. But they soon try heroin, and learn that survival on the streets will come at cost, especially now they need that hit; prostitution, criminal activity – it comes at a price they are both willing to pay.

“It was a love story. Me, Gemma and Junk. I thought it was going to last forever.” (P.320)

They begin to live another kind of life: a life of desperation and denial, lies and dishonesty – even with each other.

Told from the multiple perspectives of the various characters, almost in documentary, interview style, Melvin Burgess captures perfectly the essence of drug abuse; how it can spread like a cancer throughout a group of alienated young teens. Sadly, the actual nature of their relationships with their drug addict friends and dealers contrasts greatly with the strength of the bonds that the heroin creates – they support each other coming up, and coming down, sharing their stashes and feeding each other. It’s one for all, well, as the heroin dictates.

“It wasn’t difficult, coming off. I could do it again any time. So long as I feel like that I know it’s alright.” (P.173)

Burgess speaks to the teenage readership with unrelenting honesty, never patronising his subject matter. Through the different narratives, he immerses the reader into their addictive world, allowing us to understand their individual motives without feelings of judgement. It’s really easy to connect with the characters and their emotions, through Burgess’s honest portrayals. Satisfyingly shocking, you have to know more.

I couldn’t put this one down. A must-read for all teenagers 15+.

A.C.G x


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  • janefrith50gmailcom

    I read this a few years ago and thought it dealt with the subject remarkably well. There was quite a good TV version of it as well soon after it first came out. I may have to go back to it now having read your review!

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