What strategies and techniques does Melvin Burgess use to provide a safe distance for adolescent readers while at the same time dealing with difficult and disturbing content in Smack?
In Smack, Burgess uses less profanity and avoids intense sexual content to make the book more approachable for younger readers.
In the beginning of the book, Burgess includes an author’s note that explains that the “all the major events have happened, are happening, and will no doubt continue to happen (p. 1). He is stressing the idea that the events are realistic, and kids have gone through this and will continue to. This reminds the reader that the book is not fictional.
Burgess uses realistic language, but sanitizes it somewhat for young readers. He is always aware that this is a young adult novel. Consider this argument between Sally and Lily.
…“You, lecturing him about junk with a needle stuck up your arse, that’s what,” and I slammed the door and walked out. Lily … leaned over the bannisters, screaming at me.
“You f****** slag! Are you calling me a junkie? Are you calling me a hypocrite?” (p. 259)
The scene captures the frustration and despair of addiction with some swearing and drug talk, but does not over-exaggerate either. We get a gritty reality, but nothing so severe that it would be upsetting to a teenager.
This lightly sanitized reality allows the reader to approach the content and get carried away in the story without worrying about how far the text will go. This makes the text speak to the teen reader, and starts a conversation about very difficult topics.