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Junk - Melvin Burgess

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: Melvin Burgess, Julia Eccleshare / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 400 Pages / Book is published 2003-03-06 by Puffin Classics

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      06.08.2013 12:12
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      All parents and teens should read this book.

      Melvin Burgess is a British author. Junk is his most valuable contribution to society thus far.

      There are a number of strategies used in teen and young adult fiction designed to provide a safe distance for the reader, none of these are evident in the honest hard hitting Junk:

      Junk the winner of the Carnegie medal in 1997 is a study of realism where little is done to dilute the disturbing content. Indeed the novel cleverly sets out to educate the reader on the dangers of drug addiction without appearing to do so. The issues are confronted head on and the story begins with one of the main characters, Gemma staying out overnight and sleeping in a car with her boyfriend Tar. In Junk Burgess has created a book that appeals to boys and girls alike and that addresses some serious moral issues, subtly educate whilst providing entertainment. Burgess holds no punches, the gritty realism is there as a lesson to the teen reader. The narrative utilises different viewpoints which allows the reader to realise the full consequences of each participant's actions from their own and others point of view. The multiple narratives give the novel depth and a three dimensional view. The realism jumps of the page, Junk is about real teenagers in real time facing real issues and uses real slang. In his essay "'And it's so real": Versions of Reality in Melvin Burgess's Junk', John Stephens reminds us that 'In Junk, alienation, boredom, drugs and the craving for sensation combine to create situations in which the characters do terrible things to themselves or others or take terrible risks which they scarcely acknowledge to be risks' (Stephens, in Montgomery Watson 2009, p 321). It would appear that the strategy utilised by Burgess is one of the shocking reality of turning to drugs as a way to cope with the difficulties of growing up. Burgess avoids taking a moral stance or glamorising drug use. However, shocking observations for example in chapter 23 when Tar is narrating he observes that having ruined the veins in her arms and behind her knees that breast feeding Lily uses the veins between her breasts to shoot up. '... so she injects into the veins between her breasts. I've seen her sitting with the baby on the breast poking about to find a vein.' (Burgess, 1996, 1997, p 251,252). This is a truly horrific observation that although Tar is involved in that culture, Burgess manages to stress Tar's revulsion, perhaps by the inclusion of a quote from Lily '"Nice fat veins when your tits are big and milky", she said and no one said a word.' (Burgess, 1996, 1997p 252). The depravity of the situation shines through, there is no need to moralise to the teen reader, this realistic novel tells all that they need to know. Had it been narrated solely by the main voice, Gemma, watching over Gemma's shoulder would not have created the same impact as the multi-narrative. A third party narrative would have risked moralising and might have struggled to place the reader right there in the way that Burgess has with Junk. The reader feels as though they are in the novel, indeed, part of the friendship group. This technique of placing the reader within the story makes it more accessible, as does the use of short punchy sentences, ensuring accessibility to all reader levels and to get the point across. This style is persuasive in a way; the easy to read narrative keeps the reader turning the page.

      The parent/teenage battle for power is a underlying the in the novel and is so typical of similar battles that readers will recognise and will identify with Gemma trying to take some of the control for her own life. Gemma's parents disapprove of her boyfriend Tar, Gemma could have slept with Tar, but she didn't and was pleased that she had not, in her mind it gave her the moral high-ground over her parents. However, Gemma could not understand the seriousness of staying out all night from her parent's point of view. A battle for power that strengthens the reader's empathy for Gemma through a realistic contemporary situation that the teenage reader can identify with, placed early in the novel when the reader is still getting to know the characters. Ironically, it would be Gemma that led Tar astray. When researching the novel Burgess was unimpressed by the lack of realism in novels about drugs 'There was a great reluctance to deal with the realities, the way drugs are used, why they are used, the kind of decisions that people make, practically, socially, ethically.' and... 'it wasn't social realism; it was fantasy in disguise.' (Burgess in Montgomery and Watson, 2009, p 316). Burgess set out to write an authentic, socially realistic young adult novel. A technique Burgess utilised to achieve his aim was that of Metonymy, with much of the novel appearing to be simple and straightforward, yet it is cleverly crafted to communicate to the subconscious.

      Junk provides a valuable and strong message about drug use in a format that young adults want to read. Cleverly, Burgess places the reader up close to the action, there is no doubt what is going on and Burgess neither demonises nor glamorises the drug use, but tells a tale and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. By not taking a moralistic stance Burgess allows the reader to conclude for themselves the effects of drug addiction, by beginning his novel with two young people in realistic common situations, he has brought the reader into the novel and they will continue to read.

      Immediately you pick up any version of this book, you are shocked by the cover - the book does deliver and is as relevant today as it was in 1997.

      References from:
      Burgess, M. (1996, 1997) Junk, St Ives, Penguin Books, pp. 8, 251,252.

      Burgess, M. Sympathy for the Devil, 2004, in Montgomery, H. and Watson, N. J. (eds). Children's Literature: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Chippenham and Eastbourne, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 316.

      Stephens J, in Montgomery, H. and Watson, N. J. (eds). 2009, Children's Literature: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Chippenham and Eastbourne, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 321, 328.


      Thank you for reading my review of Junk I hope I have not gone into too much detail and spoilt the story for you, but empowered parents to realise the value of this novel for their teenagers?
      Basically, a book every teen and clean living parent of a teen should read.

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        19.11.2012 19:18

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        You have to read Junk; you really do not feel like you are reading fiction!

        I first read this book when I was fourteen years old and I was completely blown away by it. I have since read it again recently and it still manages to impact me in a truly astounding way. The best thing about this book is that it is as relevant today as it was twelve years ago when I first read it.
        The plot is relatively simple, and yet the complexity of the characters and their situation makes this book what it is.
        The main characters are Tar (David) and Gemma. They are teenagers who each have their own issues and find solace in each other. Tar is badly beaten by his father, and slaves away daily to help and protect his alcoholic Mother. Gemma is a complete contrast; although her family life is relatively normal she feels misunderstood and as many teenagers has a rebellious streak. The two characters complement each other beautifully and the relationship is interesting from the beginning.
        When Tar runs away from home, Gemma decides she will go along for the ride. What is a real break for Tar initially is a bit of fun for Gemma... but things become serious as they end up heavenly involved in a life of squatting, theft and drugs and ultimately become hooked on Heroin. Of course we meet many other wildly complex characters along the way.
        The thing which makes this book so wonderful is the brutal honesty of the writer. Burgess does not skirt around any issue; whether that be drugs, teenage prostitution or under age sex. He writes in an easy to read, yet profound way which totally engrosses the reader into the lives of these characters. He also writes in first person, swapping the narrator between Tar, Gemma and a few others. This helps the reader to truly identify with each character and empathise and relate to them all.
        All in all I believe this to be one of the best books I have ever read. It is effortlessly and beautifully written and I recommend everyone to give it a try

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        24.08.2011 20:02

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        Fall in love with the dynamics of the different characters.

        I think i was first given this book to read when i was about 15 (ish) and from then on i couldn't tell you how many times i have read it. I'd definitely say that i know it word for word.
        It represents youth very well although some people say Melvin Burgess is a very controversial writer, i disagree. I think he just has the courage to write about the subjects in which many authors are afraid of or are actually unable to write about in such a genuine way. He pushes boundaries and yes this may worry some people but i think really everyone should embrace this and just absorb the greatness that is Melvin Burgess.
        The story is so deep, twisting and graphic that it makes you feel very much involved in the plot and the characters. It's a "unable to put down, need to keep reading" type of book and i love the way Melvin writes his chapters from the point of view of the different characters.
        All i can say is, give it a try... you won't be disappointed.

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        23.04.2010 16:32
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        If you havent read this book you are missing out!

        Junk by Melvin Burgess is one of my favourite books. It follows the lives of 2 teenagers who run away to from home, and become addicted to heroin. The entire book is not written from just one persons perspective, each chapter of this book is told by a different character. This makes the book slightly difficult to get into as it is jumping about all over the place, but once you understand this it makes the book even better. It is often hard to remember that the characters are only fourteen years old, as they seem much more mature, and the issues they have to deal with are terrible.

        The book is full of drug references, and at first you may notice it seems like the characters are encouraging you to try drugs, as they seem to have a good explanation for all the bad things they do (stealing, drug taking, prostitution etc..). However as the story progresses this book portrays a strong message, you will definately never try these life destroying drugs.

        Although this book was written in1997, over 10 years ago, you would never guess it. You would think that it was only written in the past couple of years. I love this book and have read it at least 10 times, if you don't read it you are missing out!

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        24.10.2009 11:45
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        Read this book!!

        This is an amazing book. At first i did not think i would enjoy the book. However it picks up fast. The style of writing is simple and easy to read, yet shockingly brutal and realistic. I would say the book is aimed for a lightly younger audince, maybe late teens. I am not a big reader but finished this book in 2 days. I couldnt put it down. The book portarys a harshness of homelessness and heroine, how it is a form of escape. I enjoyed how the book started off upbeat, almost to the point of glamourising the lifestyle of the mian characters, but qualicky spirals downhill, resulting in prostitution in order to fund the addiction.
        The scenes where the users are trying to quite are brutal, showing how physically and mentally addictive the drunk is and what impact it has on peoples lives. During the book i forget how yound the main characters are, only just teenagers. It reminded me of a less intense Trainspotting.

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        14.04.2009 14:57
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        Drugs, sex and addiction.

        Junk a Novel by Melvin Burgess- Was winner of the Guardian Fiction Awards and the Carnegie medal. It was first published by Anderson press Limited in 1996 and Penguin Books in 1997.

        The novel is sett in Bristol in the early to mid 1980s- the period when Burgess himself spent in Bristol. Some of the characters are seeded from real people Burgess encountered in his stay. The novel can well be described as a teen novel despite being enjoyable to those both younger and older than that age bracket. This is because the themes are particularly relevant to teenagers. These themes include- independence, parties, sex, heroine, prostitution and drug addiction. This novel neither celebrates nor condemns the actions written about but gives a detailed account of them showing the consequences and allowing the reader to form their own opinion.

        Summery: - Tar is sweet, timid and is constantly violently bashed up by his father. His mother is no better- selfish and manipulative. With support from his best friend Gemma he runs away to Bristol to live among the homeless. Gemma is loud and outgoing, doesn't like rules and craves independence. Tar is in love with Gemma but Gemma doesn't want to be tied down. Tar and Gemma meet a street wise gang that live in squats. We watch as they the pair adapt to their surroundings. Fun Fun Fun but will it last?

        I thought this novel offered the facts along with an entertaining and riveting read.

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        02.03.2009 15:29
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        A good book for more mature teenagers

        This book won't change your life, it might make you think that you are lucky over the choices you have made to get where you are today and in some cases it might make you want to feel what these characters 'felt', but most of all this book will give you a couple of good evenings entertainment.

        The book is centralised around two main characters, and each chapter is written in the first person depending on whose viewpoint the author would like you to deal with at the time, I say is is centralised around two characters but there are chapters from other peoples perspectives, whether that be friends or someone whose life has been touched by the people involved. The problem wih this is that when I found myself drifting through the book I some times got confused whose life and perspective was being relayed to me, a bit more attention on your part though and you shouldn't struggle with this.

        The main character is a 14 year old boy named 'Tar', he is called this because he is so anti smoking, whenever the topic is raised he bangs on about how long the tar stays inside your body and what a disgusting habit it is. He has grown up in a broken home, his parents are both alcohol dependant and things have gone from bad to worse over the years. His Father is the bread winner of the house, while his Mother sits at home, does the house work and 'raises' Tar, however, over the years his mother has become lazier and lazier and Tar has somehow managed to do his schooling as well as the chores before his Father comes home, his Father has begun to realise what's going on however and has started to beat Tar physically.

        Gemma is his love interest of the same age, I say love interest, she doesn't love Tar but he is besotted with her. Her life is dandy in comparison but she likes to act the rebel, she has fairly strict parents but not completely over the top.

        Tar decides that the only way he can get out of his life is to run away from home, he manages this and escapes to Bristol. He survives for a few weeks, finding himself a gutted house where he can stay and a room he can call his own in this abandoned space. Gemma however decides that her life is also unbearable and makes a break to be with Tar. By the time Gemma arrives in Bristol tar has made some crucial contacts and has managed to secure his own room in a squatter house with people who genuinely care for him and feel for the life he has been forced to abandon. They instantly resent Gemma, she has had it much better than the majority of the people on the streets and they feel her life would be better if she just grew up and went home instead of thinking she was older than she was and running away.

        Things go from bad to work for our characters when they fall into a close friendship with the crack addicts, Tar moves out of his house and into a new place with Gemma and the other couple, while the friendships seem to be stronger the opportunity to take drugs soon becomes too hard to resist for both the couple and they fall down into a drug filled life which threatens to not only ruin their lives but to kill them both.

        That is the principle of the story and I don't feel like I could give any more away without spoiling the book. The beauty of th way it is written is you will go through one chapter hating certain characters but when the viewpoint switches you begin to reason with them and understand their motives.

        It is a fine read and one that will keep you going to the last page wondering if either of them break free, if they get clean and if they can get their lives back together for themselves and the people they love. The only thing I would say is to be cautious about who you let read this book, I have read some children's books that deal with the issue of homelessness, and they create valid points and do show the difficulties in a very real light, however at times the use of drugs is romantisiced in this and therefore it probably isn't a very good read for someone too young or perhaps someone who is easily led astray by these kinds of things.

        I am however going to give it a very worthy four out of five stars, as for a quick pager turner it was very enjoyable and nicely different.

        Amazon readers give it four and a half stars out of five.
        Amazon has it new in paperback for £4.49

        Paperback: 336 pages
        Publisher: Puffin; New edition edition (6 Feb 2003)
        Language English
        ISBN-10: 0140380191
        ISBN-13: 978-0140380194

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          22.08.2002 08:25
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          I found that the style of writing in this book seemed almost brutal in its realism. It shocked me at just how in depth Burgess is. I think that anyone who reads this book would think twice about even taking 'legal' drugs due to the implications involved described in the book. The book was a little hard to get into but about half way through it became gripping. I think that this is the kind of book that high school children should be made to read plainly because it is so informative about the harms of drugs and how they rapidly destroy your life until theres nothing left. Definately will read it again, and other books from the same author.

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            23.05.2002 22:20
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            I read quite a lot but never kiddies books. Tried getting on with the latest of the Harry Potter books, lightweight Dire Straits of books, gave the Lord of the Rings a go, great story but far too descriptive and although this is often in the childrens book section in the shop it could be argued that it is really a book for all ages anyway, so when whilst over at my mothers for Sunday roast I spotted Junk by Melvyn Burgess on the shelf I was rather sceptical as to how much I would enjoy it. The last books that I have enjoyed have been The Crow Road, Wasp Factory (both by Ian Bainks) Amsterdam (Ian McEwan) Bird Song (Seb Faulks) The opening chapter looks at the relationships between a young boy and girl in a sleepy town and the way in which they seek entertainment beyond the legal stuff everyone at school is doing (very similar to the things all the gothic kids in school are aspiring to.) The boy who is incidently getting abused at home by a wife beating alcoholic decides to run away to Bristol and gets taken in by some do gooders in St Pauls (a Moss-side of Bristol.) After a while his girlfriend (a well balanced middle class girl) decides to join him for the 'adventure'. The two of them start experimenting with drugs moving onto heroin after being impressed by the way the drug made evryone who used it carefree. The story spirals like an addiction as the two of them go through denial and desperation winding up with a baby and a very heavy habit. As a school teacher I recognise the book touches on many of the issues that are traditionally taught through PSHE Drugs, Health, Relationships, interactions, leaving home, parents, support, addiction, abusive relationships, influence e.t.c. and it does it really well. This is a real page turner, that uses provocative language to produce a really dramatic book. I am not sure whether it is a book that I would recommend to all of my year 10 tutor group but I feel that it is an excellent book for some children to rea
            d. Well done Melvyn. Get it from any good book shop or over the net at Amazon.

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              28.03.2002 05:24
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              "Junk" by Melvin Burgess was published in 1997 and although I am not a avid reader of books I had had it recommended to me so I thought I'd read it. Soon after I'd read it I bought it and re-read it. Since then I've re-read it and re-read it some more. It is a very touching and gripping story of two 14 year olds who decided to run away to Bristol. The young boy, Tar, has good reason to run away, as his mother is an alcoholic who manipulates him into doing everything she should be doing as a mother and a father who beats him up because he does all these jobs for his mother. Whereas his girlfriend, Gemma, runs away because her parents won't let her go out a lot because when they do she only ends up getting into trouble. So she wants to get away from her parents and be free. When Tar gets to Bristol he meets a man called Richard, who goes round opening squats, who lets Tar stay with him for a bit. Richard opens up a squat for Tar in which him and Gemma live. Richard, Vonny, Tar and Gemma decided to have a house warming party to which Richard invites two teenagers he has opened a squat for before. Gemma soon becomes friendly with these people, Lily and Rob, and moves in with them. Shortly after so does Tar. Not long after moving in Gemma and Tar discover that Rob and Lily occasionally do some heroin. They decided to give it a go and for a while everything seems extremely good and all their problems, especially Tar's, seemed to just fade into the background. The four of them begin to do more and more heroin, all the time thinking that they are stronger and can quit any time they want. When Lily becomes pregnant they put this to the test and find that no matter how hard they try they just can't beat heroin because when they feel bad they know that all they need to do is take a bit and everything seems fine again. Later on in the book Gemma says that when Lily's baby, Sunny, is crying Lily puts a few grains of heroin o
              n his gums in order to shut him up. Near the end of the book you find out that Gemma and Tar go back home with their baby but have to split up because Tar takes his dad's path and hits Gemma, although he doesn't mean it he couldn't help it and felt very bad afterwards. Also there is a chapter where Tar's dad says how he feels and how he knew that everything he did was wrong and he can see it now. The chapters are written so that each character has their own chapter and says how they feel and says their versions of what happened and how they feel about each of the other characters. Although this is an extremely sad story it is very realistic and you get to know the characters very well as if you actually did know them. Melvin Burgess has written it so well that you feel you are part of the story and it is all happening around you. This story is very real but is not for the easily shocked. The lives of heroin addicts are describe by heroin addicts. I recommend this book to all those over the age of about 13 as it will interest and shock you. It is the best story that I have ever read and will read it over and over again and so will you. I strongly recommend this book to everyone.

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                28.03.2002 00:19
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                I'm not a huge book reader, but occasionally if I see a book that interests me or someone recommends a book to me, I might read it. 'Junk' by Melvin Burgess was published in April 1997. My mum had actually bought the book for herself soon after it was awarded the Guardian Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal, I think she thought she should read about what teenagers get up to as, in 1997, I was fast appraoching my teenage years! 'Junk' is about two 14-year-old teenagers running away to Bristol where slowly but surely they become addicted to heroin. The action is set around the mid 80s but, as the author points out what happens in the story has happened before and will happen again and so in many ways, this book will never date. Although this is a children's book, it deals with issues of drugs, prostitution, alcohol abuse, teenage relationships, teenage pregnancy, thieving and child abuse. Some people may find some of the events described in the book pretty shocking and it's probably not suitable to anyone under 13. The book is separated into fairly short chapters each written by a different character in the book. This style of writing lets the author describe the inner emotions and motives of the characters which makes reading it more interesting, as if you're reading their diary. All of the characters experiences fit together like a jigsaw and leaves you with a complete picture of what happens. There is a multitude of diverse characters in Junk, although the plot is centred around Tar and Gemma. Tar's in love with Gemma and after he ran away to Bristol to escape his father who beats him up and and his alcoholic mother, he wants Gemma to come with him. Gemma is sick of her controlling parents, Gemma decides to leave Minely too to live with Tar and to find a new, fun and exciting life with no rules. At the beginning, everything works out for Tar and Gemma. Tar meets Richard, a guy wh
                o goes round opening squats for the homeless. Pretty soon, Tar and Gemma are set up...no jobs, just living off Vonny and Richard. Life's just one big party...especially to Gemma. Vonny gets fed up of Gemma though and tells her she has to move out, in the hope that she'll go back to her parents where she really belongs. But Gemma meets Lily, the 'magic girl' who Gemma seems to idolise. And so Gemma moves in with Lily and Rob and soon after, Tar joins them. Tar and Gemma discover Heroin and life seems to get better because it feels so good! But even though the four of them think they're stronger than Heroin, it takes a hold of them - Gemma and Lily prostitute themselves, Rob and Tar steal. Tar's gentle, kind and selfless personality reverses itself, he'll do anything for his next hit. Lily gets pregnant and swears to get clean. But in a chapter by Tar later in the book, it shows how this lethal drug can really take a hold of someone - "I've seen her sitting with the baby on the breat poking about to find a vein". And soon, the inevitable comes. Everybody's got to come down some day... It might sound strange to say that I enjoyed such a sad story. But I thought it brought together all the drug education taught at school and put it into something real, a story which alot of teenages actually live through. The consequences of Heroin are described in the words of a real addict in this book (bearing in mind that this is a fiction book) and anyone reading this book would never, ever touch any drug after this. Past the educational value this book has, it is a good read...one of those 'Can't put it down books'. For anyone of any age, I would highly recommend it. Buy it at Amazon for £4.79 or in most bookshops. You can't miss it, look for a BRIGHT green cover with a Dandelion tipped syringe. The symbols of what this book portrays.

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              • Product Details

                A true-to-life story of two teenagers drawn into the dangerous and destructive world of heroin addiction.