Book of da Week: Junk by Melvin Burgess

Junk by Melvin Burgess
Junk!

More drugs this week! Published in 1996, this was a year where everyone was going a bit heroin crazy as Trainspotting (a ’93 novel and ’96 film) was released and, well, if you ever thought heroin was cool then this book, the film, and Irvine Welsh’s novel are surely enough to put you off the stuff for life. Prior to that lot, you have William Burrough’s Junky to turn to, all of which make up a fine series of books for the genre of addiction literature.

Junk, which is called Smack in the US (and was published in 1997 over there), is a novel about a bunch of young vagabonds who experiment with class A narcotics. This is, however, a tad different as it’s a young adults novel – most of that genre these days is occupied by zombie and vampire novels, but this is a serious book which should act as a way to deter younger generations from shooting up. Hurray.

Junk

Way back, circa 1997, a librarian from Chorley, Greater Manchester attended Mr. Wapojif’s high school to espouse the joys of reading. Now, when you’re a kid reading is seen as something for social rejects, so for our class gathered before the librarian, no one dared admit they read anything when quizzed about hobbies.

Of course, we were already active readers at that point, but you can’t admit that before your peers. Needless to say, whatever pleasant book-promoting scheme the school had going, the librarian ended up bursting into tears due to the unruly kids and we all got a bollocking from the headmaster for our efforts.

Anyway, whilst she still had it together the librarian had promoted British author Melvin Burgess’ novel. It piqued a young Wapojif’s interest, so he later went out and read the thing. Set in Bristol (that’s a city in England, folks), the story follows some runaway teenagers who merge with a batch of squatters, whereupon they’re introduced to several joys (and endless horrors) or heroin use.

Naturally, this was a controversial one as its themes of how-to-smack-up, so the realism involved greatly perturbed the public (as the Trainspotting film did, so we presume there was a heroin mania 20 years back), although the book doesn’t offer a glowing recommendation for heroin use at all. Quite the opposite.

Legacy

Since its publication, Burgess’ novel has become part of the national curriculum at GCSE level. It also won the Guardian newspaper’s Children’s Fiction Prize, as well as getting a BBC adaptation back in the year of 1999. Whilst Irvine Welsh’s work may have been more celebrated, not least with the release of the Trainspotting sequel this year (two films which have had a huge influence on millions of peoples’ lives), Junk is an accessible and strong novel for younger readers.

In the clip above you can see the author explaining his views on themes within young adult books, which may be of interest to anyone out there writing a novel in this genre (we know, like, a whole, you know, batch of people who are). If your kids are entering their teens, then, this is a novel we can recommend to turn them away from their goddamn video games, goddamn selfie-taking, and goddamn Netflix binge-watching. Indeed.

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