cover image Smack


Melvin Burgess. Henry Holt & Company, $17.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5801-7

This searing account of two young runaways' descent into heroin addiction and their faltering climb back out won England's Carnegie Medal and Guardian Prize for Fiction. Burgess's (Burning Issy) unflinching depiction of the seductive pleasures as well as insidious horrors of heroin will likely provoke controversy and heated discussion: some adults may feel that YA readers shouldn't be exposed to such unvarnished reality; others will recognize it as strong preventive medicine. Both would be conceding the power of the story in these pages. Self-absorbed Gemma, 14, bored with small-town life and her parents' strict rules, runs away to Bristol to join ingenuous, artistic Tar, who is fleeing an abusive home. They find lodging with some older youths in a squat until Gemma, and later Tar, moves in with her newfound ""soul sister"" Lily and boyfriend Rob, who introduce them to heroin. Though constantly insisting that they can quit any time, all become junkies, with the girls turning to prostitution and the boys to drug dealing, until Gemma makes a desperate bid for salvation. In telling the story through some 10 different voices, Burgess may well dazzle readers with the novel's flawless construction and his insights into character and relationships--most notably Tar's metamorphosis from loving, gentle na f into a copy of his violent, self-deceiving father. This is one novel that will leave an indelible impression on all who read it. Ages 14-up. (May)