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4.5 out of 5 stars
Smack
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2003
This is the story Tar and Gemma, two teenagers, who run away from their families in search of freedom and end up in a prison of their own creation -- drug addiction. This is a truly compelling book and I felt myself swept along in total sympathy with the main characters. At first it's all fun and games until they realize that you can't run away from certain basic human needs: the need for a home (which becomes a squat), the need for family (which becomes a group of squatters, who sadly are also junkies). It's only a matter of time before the lure of drugs (as a bonding ritual) takes over -- and then we watch these characters spiral downward. I read this book right after another Amazon purchase -- The Losers' Club by Richard Perez -- and while that novel isn't about drug addiction, but a 'failed,' lonely writer addicted to the personal ads, I was reminded of the need we all have to belong, to feel ALIVE. The story of Smack reminds us that we can never escape from ourselves, from certain innate human needs. And when we try to break away from the more traditional ways of life, those needs, that loneliness to belong is still there. I truly love this book and would recommend it to anyone. It's beautifully written and compelling. And sadly true.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2000
I read this book this past year in my class, "Materials for Young Adults." I was shocked, not at the lurid subject matter and grittiness, but at how well written it was and how much I really enjoyed it. People may have objections to the sex and to the drug use, (and the girl with the see through dress), but at its heart, this book in NO way glamorizes drug use. Must we put a moral thermometer on everything? This is just a book about two young kids who run away from home and get caught up in the English world of squatters and heroin. I like how this book shows that not all squatters are a bunch of junkies. In fact, many of the squatters try and stop our "heroes" from getting involved with the wrong crowd. The squatters form a type of family, and drugs tear them apart in the end.
There has been a lot of controversy about this book, and whether or not it has a place in the classroom. (Some of this has been around whether a child should just READ this book on their own time.) I say the more who read it, the better. This book is much more than a cautionary tale; it's a darn good read in and of itself. And yes, it is perfectly well suited for adults as well.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2003
This is the story Tar and Gemma, two teenagers, who run away from their families in search of freedom and end up in a prison of their own creation -- drug addiction.
This is a truly compelling book and I felt myself swept along in total sympathy with the main characters. At first it's all fun and games until they realize that you can't run away from certain basic human needs: the need for a home (which becomes a squat), the need for family (which becomes a group of squatters, who sadly are also junkies). It's only a matter of time before the lure of drugs (as a bonding ritual) takes over -- and then we watch these characters spiral downward.
I read this book right after another Amazon purchase -- The Losers' Club by Richard Perez -- and while that novel isn't about drug addiction, but a "failed," lonely writer addicted to the personal ads, I was reminded of the need we all have to belong, to feel ALIVE. The story of Smack reminds us that we can never escape from ourselves, from certain innate human needs. And when we try to break away from the more traditional ways of life, those needs, that loneliness to belong is still there. I truly love this book and would recommend it to anyone. It's beautifully written and compelling. And sadly true.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2005
When I picked this up, I was expecting some kids to think drugs were cool, then run with a fast sex, drugs, and rock n' roll crowd, have a huge tragedy strike, and then get the propaganda message that DRUGS ARE BAD (think "Go Ask Alice"). Boy, was I in for a surprise. This book is an easy read, but a much more complex tale than a simple parable about how drugs are bad.

The two main characters, Tar and Gemma, leave home for things that every teenager in the world has felt in some way. Tar is abused, and leaves the hell of homelife for peace on the streets. Gemma represents every teenager who is smarter than her parents and resents their control over her life. She leaves for less justifiable reasons than Tar, but her emotions are ones anyone can identify with.

There are a lot of people on the streets and in the squats--anarchists, straight-edge vegans, punks, pot smokers, and heroin users. Tar and Gemma find friends and their own form of a family, and it is very easy to see how they slipped into the world of drugs, namely heroin.

This book has shocking events in it, but the characters are so numb to it all that they describe it in a subtle and offhand manner. Girls who sell the bodies for drug money in no way consider themselves prostitutes, because they have standards and they do it "on their terms," and on and on. The reader gets sucked up in this life and I found myself wanting to smack these characters and say, NO, what you are doing is not justifiable.

This book has a beautiful ending that took me by surprise. No, the world is not covered in roses in the end, but neither has everyone succumbed to hell.

I'd like to make a comment about the appropriate age for this book. My sister is a voracious reader. She's now 17 and was able to appreciate this book when we both read and discussed it, but she had tried to read it at age 9 or 10, and it was too much for her to handle at that age. This is a book for early high school, not for middle school readers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2001
Just about everyone has heard (although they may not heed) the message "drugs are bad," and heroin especially conjures up a vague fear of needles, AIDS and white powder. After you read "Smack", those fears will be sharpened into an acute knowledge of a horrible drug; a so-honest-it-hurts portrait of addiction that holds you fast throughout the book, daring you to even look away for a second.
Tar and Gemma are two fourteen year olds in 1980's England who run away from home. Tar has two alcoholic parents and his father beats him, while Gemma is a fairly priveliged girl who feels smothered by her parents and wants to rebel. Once they get to Bristol, they are accepted by a group of anarchist squatters. Gemma especially enjoys the carefree life of joints, booze and gluing the bank locks shut, and gets involved in the punk scene. Even after Tar and Gemma consummate their relationship, they start to grow more and more distant.
Along with the punk scene, Gemma meets Lily, a vivacious and charming teenager that she bonds with immediately. Lily and her friends later teach Gemma to smoke heroin. Tar is wary at first, but Lily pressures him into it. From there, Tar and Gemma's already gritty crashes and grows darker. They both become addicted and start to use needles. Gemma and Lily turn to prostitution to pay for their habit and Tar begins to steal.
"Smack" has an unfortunately slow and boring beginning that may turn some readers off at first, but you should definitely stick with it, as it gets much more interesting and gripping later.
The best thing about "Smack" is its reality. "Smack" does show why people do heroin, and it does reveal that a heroin high is supposedly an incredible state of bliss. But it doesn't flinch from showing the dark underbelly of drug use in a starkly realistic light. On Tar's struggle to free himself from heroin's sweet snare, he doesn't get off right away and meets many stumbling blocks to being clean. The ending is also excellent, not overly tragic, but realistic, and with an ambivalent mood of hope and dark outlook.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2001
i picked this book up on a heroin-fiction binge, anticipating a realistic, engrossing, and straight-up novel -- what the reviews and summaries touted. Instead, i found stereotypical, two-dimensional characters, unrealistic and once again, stereotypical situations, and an attitude throughout the book that could only be described as "this book wants to be deep and thought-provoking, but instead we're easy-listening for your brain." As you've probably heard already, Smack is the supposed story of Tar (aka David, also Gemma's somewhat-boyfriend) who runs away to Bristol to escape drunken parents, and "abusive situations" with both. Gemma, who is supposed to be the WILD FREE SPIRIT, is actually just a weak, middle-to-upper-class brat who will lap up anything that reeks of "rebellion." Her personality is rather fluid. The first time she meets a "punk" or "anarchist" she'll take off her plaid jumper and saddle shoes and spend a hundred quid to become the overnight Real Anarchist Rebel Punk Rock Free Spirit Chick. Then when someone new comes along, she latches onto their point of view and holds them up as her god, casually booting the previous deity.
So our little friends leave home because of their taxing and not-so-taxing home lives (TAR--Predatory, dependent and drunk mother; "He-beats-me-and-mum-up" Father, who also seems to be an alcoholic. GEMMA-- My Parents Dont Let ME Do ANYTHING!!!! I am SOOOO SICK of having warm croissants every day for breakfast! GAWD! WHY can't things just be MY WAY?)
They move about the city, finding new homes and new people, and meet and consequentially fall in with a couple. Rob and Lily live in a vacant house they've taken over-- a squat-- and invite Tar and Gemma to stay with them. Obvious, not-so-subtle foreshadowing lets the reader know that things wil be "taking a turn for the worse." Nearly everything happens just they way Mommy told you it would. The Bad Guys--Lily and Rob--have a white powder on aluminum foil which they are preparing and inhaling. Come on, guys. It's JUST heroin. It won't hurt you. You can stop anytime you want. Try it, you'll like it. It just makes you happy, that's all. The Rebellious Risk-Taking Friend takes it, and convices the Innocent, Concerned, Shy Nice Boy to "DO IT." Gemma in particular holds the belief that she's STRONG so nothing can "get" her. In each chapter written from her point of view, she constantly states that she's not an addict, she's having fun, Lily would NEVER do something that could hurt her,--everyone's typical idea of a budding junky. She's not in real-life, actual junky denial, she's just playing to the camera.
Nearly every situation in the book refers to a standard belief or stereotype of exactly how one "falls into" junky-dom. Blaring, ominous foreshadowing jumps off the page at each "wrong turn" the characters make. You wouldn't even have to read the rest of the book once you got about 2/3 into it. They take a little. A little more. If you're going to inhale it, why not pop it? If you're going to pop it, why not mainline it? (quote courtesy of The Basketball Diaries.) So they start out small, move on up to daily usage, etc etc etc, and of course their lives are falling to pieces. Everything happened like it would in a Disney documentary of users-become-addicts. Focusing more on the relationships and petty, trivial incidents rather than the actual heroin use, it was just a soap opera at many times. Actually, no. At least soap operas don't try and take themselves seriously. The highs and lows of addiction as presented by the book could be summed up as "It made me feel sooo happy" and "My stomach has cramps. I am in withdrawal. Wow. This hurts badly. I wish I had some methadone. Oh wait, hi Tar! I missed you! Wow! Let's Have a Party!" I'd hope that anyone who has read books other than Bugsy Goes to School and The Little Engine that Could can tell you that the storyline was nicely packed up and in to give standard, cooky-cutter descriptions of situations, characters, and later on, junkies. Even removing the situation (heroin), the writing itself screams "Condensed Version. Abridged and Simplified." It's like a Drug Addicts On The Street Baby-Sitter's Club novel.
Overall, a predictable, rather boring attempt at being dramatic, chilling, eye-opening, whatever cliched words you'd want to describe your "groundbreaking report on how heroin ruins one's life." If you want a book to read on the beach while you watch your kiddies play, or during Silent Reading at your school, fine. Here it is. i gave it 2 stars not because it deserves more than the lowest possible, but because there could be worse. The only merit of the book that could deserve the extra star would probably be the fact that there was no in-your-face preaching. That was attained by the sheer ridiculousness of many of the chapters or characters, and the author's obvious lack of actual heroin-user knowledge.
Many people know that heroin and drug-addiction fiction is too many times garbage anyway. If you want UK addiction in poverty, with the whole 3 situations offered by Smack PLUS-- all the ACTUAL happenings of the day to day life of a junky, just go with Trainspotting.
It's really not surprising that the book is found in the Young Adults Fiction section, and Amazon has it categorised as Young Adults Grades 10-12, Children 12-Up Fiction General, and Juvenile Fiction. Because right there's your ultimate overall description. Juvenile.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2001
In this novel written by Melvin Burgess, Smack is a Realistic tale about everyday teenage angst. When a father is brutally abusing a 15 year boy until he is frightened to even speak a push for a desperate turn for a new life is sought. Fall into the world of Tar and Gemma, of the life of heroin addiction and pain. The test for survival as runaways, they take their own lives into their own hands. From all of the chaos of life they turn to drugs to ease off their pains. The cover of drugs did not take Gemma and Tar anywhere. The novel describes the life of a drug addicted teenager and willingness to survive. On the Streets of England they are forced to illegally "squat" ,hide amongst the shadows from authority. Tar was a runaway to escape the harsh treatment he received at home, while his girlfriend Gemma, runs away from controlling parents and accompany Tar on his new life on the road. The cold streets of England were harsh and cold, Squatting in old flats were necessary , but controlled by a bunch of heroin addict anarchists. Affiliations with the wrong crowd forces them to led their lives the wrong way, doing what they can to please their desires, and playing simples jokes on the government like Super Gluing the doors shut. The life of partying and bat habits arose, as well as the dirty heroin habit , money for sex, and violence and crime. Gemma feels as if everything was going along too fast, but Tar on the other hand was getting carried away on the new lifestyle. Emotional as the books gets, Its sad to say that drugs eventually tear the two lovebirds apart and outcomes don[`t always come out as they expect. Which is best about the book because it keeps the reader at its anticipating interest. The book is written in chapters that are seen through each of the characters views and experiences. Smack captures the reader. It helps one to relate to their situations that seem so realistic. Gemma eventually wind up issues with their parents and the end, while Tar and his father patch up some heartache that wasn't expected, which gives emotional feelings the reader and the end. The Situations were so real and intense, I didn't want to put it down. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the behavior of addiction and anyone who is interested in realistic teen situations.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 1999
I can relate to this book well, being a teen in Britain. I may not have been in the situation Tar and Gemma were in, but there is such a sense of realism about the book, that you can almost step into their lives and become them.
This book really shows the addiction from the addicts point of view, how they don't realise the mess they're in until it's too late.
Melvin Burgess has written this book so well, and his writing gave an understanding to the feelings, not only of Tar and Gemma, but of the people around them. The parents, the friends and enemies all shared int the glory of this shocking, yet marvellous novel.
This is a MUST read for anyone. Teen or not (unless you are faint hearted).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 1999
I absoutley loved this book. I read the whole book at the bookstore! I overcame my heroin addiction on Jan 1, 1999. I lost my best friend to a heroin Overdose at a New Years party. You never think that something like Smack can happen to you. The quote on the cover is so true, because when you give it up for a few days, then take it, it works the best. That is the really Nasty thing. I recomend this book to everyone.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2003
SMACK is a suspenseful novel about two children in search of themselves. The main characters in this book are David (also known as Tar) and Gemma, both 14 years old. Tar's abusive family influences his decision to run away, and his girlfriend Gemma decides that her family has been too rough on her as well. Tar leaves at first, and later Gemma decides to join him. Living on the streets, Tar meets a tobacconist, Skolly, who helps him start out his new life. Together with Vonny, Richard, and Jerry, Tar squats a house, and later becomes part of a new anarchist, punk group, consisting of his housemates. When Gemma comes to join Tar, she realizes that this was the life that she's wanted, and she makes new friends (Lily and Rob), who unfortunately don't make the right decisions in the sense that they experiment with Heroin and other drugs, as well as with sex. Just like everything else, it comes to an end, and they have to suffer the consequences.
If you want a book that you just can't put down, SMACK is a great one at that. It's an exciting novel. This book teaches a valuable lesson. The fun thing to do is not always the good thing to do. To most children out there, that think life cannot get any worse than it is now, you should really read this book. It'll relate to your outlook on life. As SLI puts it, "Powerful and calculated...Smack is not a lecture to be yawned through. It's a slap in the face."
(...)
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