4.4 181
by Melvin Burgess

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After running away from their troubled homes, two English teenagers move in with a group of squatters in the port city of Bristol and try to find ways to support their growing addiction to heroin.  See more details below


After running away from their troubled homes, two English teenagers move in with a group of squatters in the port city of Bristol and try to find ways to support their growing addiction to heroin.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review of this "searing" account of teens who become addicted to heroin, PW wrote that the "unflinching depiction of the seductive pleasures as well as insidious horrors of heroin... will leave an indelible impression on all who read it." Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
In a starred review of this "searing" account of teens who become addicted to heroin, PW wrote that the "unflinching depiction of the seductive pleasures as well as the insidious horrors of heroin will leave an indelible impression on all who read it." Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Barbara Roberts
a mandate for changes in conduct to adults, Smack makes a weak case for social reform, although it provides a glimpse into a culture heretofore unknown by American readers. 1999 (orig.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 1998: Fourteen-year-old Tar runs away from his abusive, alcoholic parents to a "squat" (an abandoned building) in Bristol, and his girlfriend Gemma soon follows. They're taken under the wing of some older people, but when they meet a couple their own age they go off to live with them. Gemma is impulsive, immature, and a sensation-seeker, and when her new friends introduce her to heroin she takes to it eagerly. They convince the anxious, vulnerable Tar to try it too, and soon they're all addicted. Tar turns to stealing and Gemma to prostitution to support their habits. They try to quit but can't succeed, and it's not until Gemma's horror at her addicted friend's having a baby precipitates a crisis that their lives finally change, though Tar may never get clean. Reminiscent of Trainspotting, this hard-hitting, all-too-believable story conveys both the appeal and the awfulness of heroin. It's told in brief chapters narrated by various characters, including Tar, Gemma, their friends and their parents. First published in Great Britain under the title Junk and winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian prize for fiction, it includes a glossary of British terms at the end to help American readers. Smack delivers a powerful anti-drug message, though its tone and profanities restrict it to mature older teens. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1996, HarperCollins, Avon, 370p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Burgess has taken the toxic concoction of young adults and drug use and presented a chilling reality. This novel is about runaway teens "squatting" (inhabiting abandoned buildings) in Bristol, England. Heroin is the main character. The results of unleashed adolescent experimentation is the theme. The book is powerful and calculated, intent on affecting readers and shattering pat illusions. When 14-year-old Gemma follows her friend, Tar, to the city, she discovers a spirited life accentuated by drugs and free of authority. They soon take up with Lily and Rob, two young junkies. Lily is the personification of Lady Heroin. She's stimulating, erotic, irresistibly intoxicating, in the beginning. At the end, she's used up, wallowing in an almost unfathomable level of inhumanity, injecting smack into the veins between her breasts while nursing her baby. The descent of these young people as they plunge into the heavy-user category is brutally honest. Through first-person accounts, the characters present their circumstances and past experiences in a measured voice, devoid of warmth. Readers are kept at viewing distance. Tar alone is seen in a fragile and vulnerable light. Will YAs devour this novel? Absolutely. It is filled with punk culture, sex, drugs, and life on the edge. As repugnant and horrifying as the journey, the fascination of the feel-good, live-fast, die-young mentality has a sickly sweet lure. Smack is not a lecture to be yawned through. It's a slap in the face, and, vicariously, a hard-core dose of the consequences of saying "yes." -- Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, New York
Kirkus Reviews
In a Carnegie Medal-winning novel (under the U.K. title, Junk) that cuts to the bone, Burgess puts a group of teenage runaways through four nightmarish years of heroin addiction. At 14, sweet-natured Tar leaves his small seaside town for Bristol to get away from his alcoholic, abusive parents. Gemma follows him to escape an infuriatingly repressive (to her, at least) home situation. Reveling in their newfound freedom, the two find shelter with a welcoming set of "anarchists" (punks) squatting in an abandoned building, then move on to live with Lily and Rob, a glamorous couple a year or so older who willingly share not just their squat, but their heroin too. Using multiple narrators, and only rarely resorting to violence or graphic details, Burgess (The Earth Giant) chronicles drug addiction's slow, irresistible initial stages, capturing with devastating precision each teenager's combination of innocence, self-deceit, and bravado; the subsequent loss of personality and self-respect; the increasingly unsuccessful efforts to maintain a semblance of control. Although the language is strong, Burgess never judges his characters' behavior, nor pontificates; more profoundly persuasive than a lecture is the turn to prostitution to finance their habits, Tar's casual comment, "If you don't mind not reaching twenty there's no argument against heroin, is there?" or a scene during which Lily nurses her baby while also probing her own chest for a vein to insert a needle. Based on actual people and incidents, this harrowing tale is as compellingly real as it is tragic.

From the Publisher

“Searing . . . unflinching . . . seductive . . . insidious . . . flawless. This is one novel that will leave an indelible impression on all who read it.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Cuts to the bone. . . . Based on actual people and incidents, this harrowing tale is as compellingly real as it is tragic.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Heroin chic? Far from it.” —Teen People

“The book is powerful and calculated, intent on affecting readers and shattering pat illusions. . . . [B]rutally honest.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review

“Smack is filled with cool British lingo and interesting characters, all the while subtly delivering a harrowing message about addiction.” —Seventeen

“Grim and cautionary novel.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Smack pulls no punches: Drugs can be fun. And Smack makes it relentlessly clear that fun comes at a vicious price. . . . It will leave you reeling.” —Denver Post

“[A]n honest, unpatronizing, unvarnished account of teen life on the skids.” —Booklist

“[A] gritty, no punches-pulled chronicle.” —News and Observer, Raleigh, NC

“It does exactly what teenagers want a book to do. It tells the truth. It doesn't preach. It makes you think. . . .Smack is as addictive as the drug it profiles. You will not be able to put it down.” —VOYA

“The book sticks with you.” —Seattle Post Intelligencier

“[A] boot-in-the-gut look at British kids on the dole and drugs.” —Toronto Globe & Mail

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Product Details

San Val, Incorporated
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A boy and a girl were spending the night together in the if back seat of a Volvo estate car. The car was in a garage. It was pitch black.

"I'm hungry," complained the girl.

The boy turned on a torch and peered inside a grey canvas rucksack behind him. "There's an apple."

"Nah. Any crisps left?"


Gemma sighed and leaned back in the car. She pulled a blanket over herself. "It's cold," she said.

"Barry'll be here soon," Tar said. He watched her closely in the torchlight, frowning anxiously. "Sorry you came?" he asked.

Gemma looked over and smiled. "Nah."

Tar snuggled up against her. Gemma stroked his head. "You better save the batteries," she said in a minute.

Tar turned off the torch. At once it was so black you couldn't see your own hand. Surrounded by the smell of damp concrete, oil and petrol, they carried on their conversation cuddling in the dark.

Tar said, "Come with me."

"What?" She was amazed, surprised. It had never occurred to her...He could feel her staring at him even though it was too dark to see anything. In the darkness, Tar blushed deeply.

"You must be crazy," said Gemma. "Why?"

"What have I got to run away from?"

"Wait till you get home." The two laughed. Gemma had been banned a week before from seeing Tar. Her parents had no id your age sit around watching grown men acting like fools? It'sridiculous!''

Ezra groaned, partly because his father continued to block the television screen and partly because the man at bat had struck out.

Even though he had explained them to him a hundred times, his father kept forgetting the rules of baseball. He still insisted that RBI meant "rubbish brought inside." He couldn't remember "runs batted in." And if Ezra told him that somebody hit a double, Mr. Feldman always asked, "Does that mean they got two points?" Ezra didn't know how a person who could read ancient Greek could be that dumb.

Mrs. Feldman said it was because Ezra's father had grown up in Europe, where baseball is not a popular sport. Mr. Feldman had been born in Germany and had been sent to England before the Second World War. After the war he came to the United States, but it was too late. "I think you have to be born in America to appreciate baseball," Mrs. Feldman explained to her son. "It's the same with pumpkin pie." Indeed, Mr. Feldman didn't like pumpkin pie either, and both Ezra and his mother loved it. Even Harris, born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey, liked pumpkin pie despite his indifference to baseball.

Pumpkin pies came in the fall, just when the baseball season was ending. They were a small compensation. But Ezra kept watching the. calendar and counting the days until February. In February, spring training began, and the newspapers would be filled with more baseball information.

Ezra's favorite month of the year was April when the baseball season opened and his birthday occurred. His birthday was April first, and the baseball season usually opened a few days later.

"April is when the income tax is due," Mr. Feldman would remember. He forgot the new baseball season, but at least he remembered the taxes and his son's birthday. Two and a half weeks before Ezra's tenth birthday, his father came home with an early gift, an electronic chess game for them to share. But sharing a chess game wasn't like sharing a pumpkin pie with his mother. For one thing, Mr. Feldman played with the chess game much more than his son did. Ezra understood the basic rules of chess, but the game wasn't exciting like baseball. Besides, when he played chess with his father, he always knew the outcome of the game in advance. Mr. Feldman won every time.

"You have to lose a lot of games and understand the reasons why you lost before you can win," his father explained. Unfortunately, instead of being encouraged, Ezra found this information more discouraging than ever.

"What's the matter with you?" complained Mr. Feldman. "Harris was beating me when he was your age."

"Ezra is just as smart as Harris, in his own way," Mrs. Feldman said, defending their son. "Someday he'll surprise us. just be patient."

Mrs. Feldman was a radiologist, and at work she was called Dr. Feldman. She worked much longer hours at North Shore Hospital than Mr. Feldman (who was also called Dr. Feldman) worked at Queens College, where he taught. When she came home, she relaxed by listening to classical music on the stereo. She also liked to do crossword puzzles. She was quite good at them, but she could never have finished a puzzle without the assistance of her husband and son. If she needed to know the name...

Baseball Fever. Copyright © by Johanna Hurwitz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Melvin Burgess is the author of many novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Among them are Nicholas Dane, Doing It (a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age), The Ghost Behind the Wall (Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year) and Smack (winner of Britain's Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize for Fiction, as well as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults). In 2001, he wrote the novelization of the film, Billy Elliot. Mr. Burgess lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in England.

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Smack 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its a great book. I love the way it switched back and forth from character to character, because you could see all of the caracters different points of views on things.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Smack hits hard with a real life view of herion addiction. At first glamorizing the feeling and lifestyle associated with the drug, the novel portrays the gradual downward spiral that users go into. Gritty, real, and brutally honest, I couldn't put the book down.