Junk, by Melvin Burgess, is a brilliant novel that tells of the lives of two teenagers called Gemma and Tar. Fourteen-year-old Gemma stays out late with her boyfriend Tar, who her parents dislike; they preach to her about common sense and self control, but Gemma doesn’t want to listen. Tar is also fourteen but already has the responsibility of propping up his alcoholic mother; regularly beaten by his alcoholic father, he finally abandons his parents and runs away to Bristol.
Encouraged by Tar’s escape, Gemma decides that she’s also had enough and abandons her parents to run away and join Tar in Bristol. When she moves into the squat Tar’s inhabiting, Gemma meets fellow squatters Lily and Rob, and doesn’t initially realise that they are both heroin addicts. Before she knows what’s happening, Gemma finds herself drawn into the frightening world of drug addiction.
Burgess tells of how the teenagers steal and prostitute themselves in order to feed their drug habit, exposing the grimy life of drug addiction in all its gory detail. Most importantly the novel reveals that we, like Tar, are incredibly vulnerable, and that addicts aren’t specific people; any one of us could become one.