Burgess, Melvin - Junk

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2000

5 Pages

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1.About the author Melvin Burgess

He was born in 1954 and brought up in Sussex and Berkshire. After leaving school he trained as a journalist but wasn`t satisfied with it. He moved to Bristol where he worked at occasional jobs mainly in the building industry or he was simply unemployed. Before he began to write full-time at the age of 35 he had a business marbling fabrics for the fashion industry. His first book "the Cry of the Wolfe" was published in 1990.

Now he is one of the rising stars of contemporary children and youth literature. In his books he deals with difficult subjects such as homelessness, witchcraft and child abuse.

For "Junk" Burgess used impressions from personal experiences. His brother and some other people he knew were drug addicts. A lot of events that take place in the story were true.

"Junk" won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Fiction Award.

2.The plot

Tar is a boy of 14 years who has a lot of problems at home with his parents. His father, a teacher, is and alcoholic and so is his wife. She drinks until she isn´t able to run the household anymore so that Tar has to do everything for her. when his father comes home and notices that his son does all the work instead of his wife he beats him. Drinking and beating is usual in the family and for that reason nothing holds Tar back and he decides to run away.

He spends the last night with his girlfriend Gemma together in a car which takes her into serious troubles with her parents. From then on she is controlled all day long .

They don`t even trust her going to school and observe her all the time. Everything is forbidden for her and that is reason enough for her to join Tar.

Before Gemma runs away too, Tar moves alone to Bristol where he first sleeps i n the street. But the meeting with Skolly, an old fat tobacconist, changes his situation. The man feels sorry for the boy and introduces him to Richard. Richard is an anarchist, who opens squats and makes ends meet by commiting little crimes such as stealing and selling TV-sets and so on. That night they squat a new house to live in and spend the whole night smoking joints and talking. Tar makes friends with Richard and two other punks. Vonny and Jerry also like Tar and so he decides to stay with his new friends. As he has a place to stay now, Tar invites Gemma to live with them and she doesn`t hesitate.

Tar and Gemma paint the rooms of the squat in return for eating and living off Richard`s money. Gemma has some problems with Vonny because she behaves like her mother at home did. Vonny always worries about Gemma because she thinks that she shouldn´t have given up her parents a nd education only to live with Tar and makes her phone her parents to tell them that she is all right.

One night Richard has the idea to glue the keyholes of all banks around in order to make the clerks have a day off and enjoy life.

Gemma has some money left, she has stolen from her dad before she left and now spends it on new fashion clothes and she has her ear and nose pierced like a punk. Finally she buyes a present for Tar. In the evening they go out to a pop concert where an punk band is playing. Gemma enjoys the crowd of people, dances with other guys and when one of them asks her to go home with him she agrees. But just in time she remembers Tar by the present she bought for him and turns back to him. But both of them know that she nearly did it and could do it again anytime.

Gemma gets more and more in conflict with Vonny who doesn`t like her arrongant punk stile either. She wants them to leave the squat after their house-warming party they have organised.

At this party Gemma gets completely stoned from all the joints and hash-cakes. While Tar is away with the others to open a new squat she gets to know Lily, a girl who is very fascinating for her. She only wears a transparent stringvest and is dancing and smiling without a break no matter what she does. Watching the girl for a long time Gemma wishes to become like her and they begin to talk. When Tar comes back he finds two new best friends and although he isn´t as motivated as Gemma is, they leave the party to visit Lily and her boyfriend Rob at home. Lily has no scrupels and kisses Tar in front of Rob and Gemma who don´t mind. She is able to impress everyone with her great selfconfidence. They have a good time together.

Gemma stays with them and gives Tar the elbow because she never really loved him. He moves back to Richard and is very sad about losing his dandelion( as he calls Gemma ).

(But he meets Rob again and they go on a skip to find something useful, where they get caught by a policeman, but they manage it to get out of the situation. After that they look around the shops and Tar falls in love with a huge and expensive book full of halfnaked women in it which touches his creative artistheart.)

Later when Lily invites Tar to visit them, Gemma notices how much she missed him and they are together again. She and the other 2 have a present for him: the book he fancied so much. For a whole week they have looked out for a good moment to steal it. Then they give him heroin to try for the first time and he enjoys it although he never expected that.

Tar moves in too, although Vonny and Richard rather want to prevent that because they are afraid of Lily's bad influence on Gemma and Tar. Lily and Rob were already addicted to heroin when they lived in Manchester but could escape and start a new life in Bristol. But now they begin to use it again. First they steal their food from supermarkets, take all kinds of staff from skips and Rob works as a mechanic. The girls are taking heroin everyday now. All of them maintain that they could give up whenever they want. Sometimes they try to stay clean only to be sure that they can do without it, but it gets more difficult each time and later they don't even try anymore with the excuse that they don't have to show it all the time. They simply don't want to see what has really happened: They have turned into junkies! It gets worse and worse.

After one of their binges Rob, Lily, Gemma, Tar and Sally, an other friend, feel cold turkey. But there is no money left to buy anything and so Lily prostitutes herself for half an hour and returns with a lot of money. For her it's just a job for good payment. As they need more and more money to satisfy their addiction Gemma and Sally work as prostitutes at a parlour (brothel). Only Lily works in the street or at home with Rob as her bodyguard to protect her from dangerous punters. Tar and Rob begin to deal a bit. From that time on, they stop sharing needles just in case not to infect the others.

Richard invites Tar to go to Asia with him to get him out of that drugscene but Tar doesn't want to run away because he is quite satisfied with his life and the success he has as a dealer. Gemma thinks so too in the beginning, because she earns a lot of money in the parlour and she would like to tell her parents how well she does but she doesn't dare to. Although she phones them sometimes she can not go home until she is clean.

When Lily tells the others that she is pregnant, it causes a lot of trouble and she quarrels a lot with Sally. She blames her not to be able to become a good mother as a junkie and that she does no good to her child when she gives birth to it full of junk. According to Sally an abortion would be the best solution, but Lily wants to have the child. They start to make plans of bringing it up all together, of giving up junk, searching for real jobs.

But in fact nothing changes and only after Lily nearly died ( turned blue ) of an overdose, they decide to give up smack all together:

They move into a small house in the countryside ( Rob's mother owns it) far away from all the drugs. There is only an little bit hash in their luggage to come down slowly. But they don't know that Rob has something with him which he shares neither with Gemma nor the others and when the withdrawal symptoms torment Tar too much he leaves his friends and hitchhikes home to Bristol. The ne xt day the others give up too which causes another row between Lily and Gemma who blames the pregnant girl not to care about her baby. At home Gemma has a talk to Tar where she tells him how he has changed and that she loves him the first time.

One day they are caught by the police because they have a lot of drugs in their house, but Tar pretends to be the owner of all in order to protect Gemma. He is sentenced to becoming clean in a detox center and he really tries to. Gemma does the same in the squat, but it is much harder for her because she has all the drugs around. When Tar comes back there is a big party for him where first Gemma takes a hit and then Tar too. So they fall back into the vicious circle of he roin again.

Once Tar visits his old friend Richard and his girlfriend Sandra. She doesn't trust him and as soon as she recognizes that he is an addict she wants him to leave. But before he nearly leaves them she changes her mind and decides to help him to get rid of it. Although she gives him painkillers against the withdrawal symptoms he isn't strong enough to go through it and runs away. When they find him again they realize that they can help him best when they give him the money for the bus home.

After a horrible incident Lily had with a punter ( he nearly strangled her to death ), Rob calls the police so that they have to leave their place full of needles and look for help at Gemmas' and Tars'. But Tar wants them to leave again because two dealers can't do their business next to each other.

Gemma is pregnant too and worries about her baby and is afraid to give birth to a junkie just as Lily did, because her child gets the heroin even through Liliy's breast. Lily is very furious about the thought that anyone could take away her child, but it is obvious that she knows that it would be best. Finally Gemma calls the police to end the drama. She runs away and tries to contact Vonny, but she is not at home. So she goes to the hospital and Vonny calls Gemma's mum when she finds her note.

Gemma sees her parents the first time again after 3 years.

At the same time Tar is sent to youth custody, where he becomes clean again. Gemma visits him there. When he gets out, she already has their baby named Oo na. Althoug h she is very happy to have her Tar again, she can't sleep with him and feels very guilty about that and all what happened because he did everything only for her. He loves her so much b ut it doesn't work and they split up.

In the end Tar has a new girlfriend and sometimes visits Oona. Gemma and he are quite good friends, but he can't tell her that he occasionally takes junk because she wouldn't let him spend any time with his daughter again.

3.main characters


His real name is David, but everyone calls him Tar because he hated fags and refused to smoke any cigarettes.

He has a lot of problems at home: both of his parents are addicted to alcohol and his father often beats him up because he does the work for his mum, who can't do it anymore because she is too drunk all the time. She isn't a good mother because she makes her son do, whatever she wants by producing a guilty conscience in him. For example when he first phones her, she cries on the phone and tells him that his father now beats her instead of him. Tar loves his mother very much and so he always tried to protect her from her husband. But it is quite obvious that his mother lies to him only to make him feel bad and so that he comes back again.

During the story Tar's character changes a lot. In the beginning as a 14 year old boy he loves painting and is a quite shy, romantic boy. ( he paints dandlions for Gemma and calls her that name )He is totally in love with Gemma and does everything for her, although she doesn't love him that way. ( she nearly leaves him on that punk festival, and gives him the elbow when she moves in with Lily )

But when he becomes a real junky, he changes into a motionless dealer, who only thinks of the money he earns and the junk he can buy with it ( He dosn't want to help Rob and Lily after the rape of the punter, although they are good friends, because 2 dealers can't be in one house ). When they all try to give up in the countryside, he turns out to be an egoist because he doesn't even give a bit of his smack to Gemma, who is really tormented by the withdrawal symptoms and he doesn't do this in order to help her giving up, but because he wants all for himself. He seems not to care about Liliy's baby either and doesn't really want to stop using. He adopts the opinion that it is best to live fast and die young.

When he is sent to the detox centre the first time, he tries to cope with the problems he had at home the first time and speaks a lot about his mum and notices how she influenced him. He is proud of himself to be clean and feels quite bad when he takes something on the welcome-party again.

The last cry of help is his visit of Richard. It's obvious that he wants to get away of everything bad, but the addiction is too strong so that he can't go through it without professional help.

Another fact is, that Tar turns from a nice, friendly and honest boy into a criminal. When Skolly wants to give him chocolatebars for free, he first rejects to take them although he is hungry. But as soon as he gets in touch with drugs, he begins to steal things from the supermarkets ( as Rob shows him to ) and then begins to deal with drugs. He sells it to very young children without any scruples.

Tar's relationsship to Gemma changes a lot: first he loves her very much although she doesn't feel like that. When they both become junkies he seems not to care about her very much, but she needs him more and more. Gemma worries about how much drugs he takes and feels guilty for him. When Tar gets clean again his love to Gemma comes back again, b ut she recognizes that they must split up in order not to get into the same troubles as before again. It is a hopeless love without future.

Gemma ( Brogan ):

She has not more problems at home, than every teenager has at the age of 14. But she acts on impulse and gets upset easily. She wants to rebel against her conservative father. Tar is a very good expedient to shock her parents because they don't like him and the thought of their daughter having a boyfriend. Locking he r in her room and controlling her is the wrong way to tame her and so she runs away. She hates to be controlled and that's the reason why she can't get along with Vonny a rather reasonalbe girl who sees how Gemma only wants to shock everybody ( piercing her nose, wearing punk clothes, taking drugs ). But she seems to act like her mother to Gemma and that's why she automatically does the opposite of what Vonny suggests to do. In the end Vonny is the only person Gemma can go to. She is the first step into the direction of her parents, Vonny phones then.

Her parents suffer very much from Gemmas disappearance and their marriage nearly breaks up.

With the years Gemma becomes more and more reasonalbe as you can see when she tells Lily how badly she acts as a mother for her child, when she doesn't stop taking heroin. When the two girls first meet, Gemma admires Lily and wants to become like her but with the time she changes into a stronger character. She is the one who calls the police in order to stop everything which has to do with drugs and to give Lily's baby the chance to escape of the hell from drugs and to develop normally. The drugs don't change her into a better character, but you can see how Gemma becomes more and more an adult in the end and notices that she has to face reality without drugs.


- short plot

- how do they slip into their addiction

- what consequence does it have for them ( crime, prostitution, change of personal relationship )

- attempts to break out

- how do they finally get out

- short description of 2 main characters ( Gemma, Tar )

5 of 5 pages


Burgess, Melvin - Junk
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
341 KB
Burgess, Melvin, Junk
Quote paper
Katharina Schulz (Author), 2000, Burgess, Melvin - Junk, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/100358


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