Tar and Gemma are fourteen year old friends. Tar comes from an unhappy background, filled with abuse. Gemma comes from a smothering family when all she wants to do is have a good time. When Tar decides to run away, Gemma supports him and then decides to join him on the streets of Bristol, thinking that being homeless for a while might be a bit of a laugh and alleviate the boredom of her existence.
Once in Bristol, the pair live in a squat for a while and get involved in the punk scene. Gemma is determined to sample all the delights a thriving city has to offer.
This wasn’t an easy read at all - I consider myself moderately unshockable, but there are some fairly graphic descriptions of heroin use, violence and prostitution that made me cringe - but it was definitely a worthwhile one. It read like a Trainspotting for teenagers, although in some ways it was even more disturbing because the characters are so young. After a fairly slow start, the action ramps up and towards the end I couldn’t put it down. As a reader you have to just stand by and watch as these people flush their lives further and further down the toilet. Without giving anything away, there is redemption of sorts at the end. It’s not what I would call a happy ending, exactly, but it’s a satisfying one.
The narrative is told from multiple first person viewpoints, which is a tricky thing to pull off but here it actually works because you get Tar and Gemma’s stories from lots of different directions. New narrators only come in once they’ve already been introduced as characters, so you kind of get a feel for who they are before they start moving the story along. You have the main characters - Gemma and Tar - who take up most of the narrative, but other characters chime in too, like a kind of smacked- up Greek chorus.
There was plenty of character development in the story, considering the MCs use a whole bunch of heroin to effectively smoosh out any actually emotions they might be experiencing. Gemma is probably the best-developed character. She goes from this deeply irritating brat at the beginning of the book to a thoughtful, battle-scarred woman by the end. Tar doesn’t develop quite as much, but his reason for getting involved in heroin was to blank out his horrible home life, so I guess that makes sense.
Like I said, this isn’t a happy read, but I’d recommend it to anyone.