Burgess's Junk (re-titled Smack for its release in the United States) chronicles the experiences of a group of teenagers who become addicted to heroin and embrace lives of anarchy in the streets of England. The story focuses on two main characters, Tar and Gemma, who elope to escape their checkered pasts of abuse only to fall into the grips of heroin addiction. Although the two try desperately to get clean, the relapse several times and resort to theft and prostitution to survive and get their fix.
The commentary on childhood throughout the novel is clear. There are a tremendous number of obstacles and pitfalls in our modern world and it can be very difficult to traverse those obstacles without family and strong connections to community. Unfortunately for Tar and Gemma, they are without those connections are left to navigate a dark and seedy world largely on their own to little success. The novel asks readers to question the care we take in protecting and providing for children, particularly those with difficult lives in less than ideal surroundings.