Sunday, September 11, 2011


Junk / Smack

by Melvin Burgess
***(This book has been published under both titles.)

Melvin Burgess is the kind of writer who manages to take on anything and make it compelling reading - really, the reason that I wanted to read this book. He can the write the impossible so that it's believable, the creepy so that it's chilling yet not unthinkable, and in this case, the big issue in a way that neither sensationalizes nor minimizes.

This book is about junk - as in heroin - and a pair of kids who fall into using it. Well, one of them falls in, following the other, who rather jumps headlong into it as an adventure. Which is kind of how their relationship is, really - she leading blithely, he following, even though he is the one with the true problems at home. It's her thirst for something new that leads them to run away, to move out with some users, and to start themselves.

Once they start using, Burgess presents a pretty balanced picture about what the appeal is, the hold the cravings have over them, the unappealing things they do to keep that next score in sight, and the lies they tell themselves to make it seem okay. In the end, they do strive to clean up and return to a different life, and we see glimpses of where their stories will lead, some endings happier than others.

Over it all, though, is Burgess' writing, less showy here than in some of his books, but solid, unflinching, and a real enough voice to speak directly to teens and the questions they might have about this drug and the life that too often goes with it.

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