Category: Children's Books

Anna Kuschnarowa
Junkgirl
[Junky girl]

Novel

Review

​The best literature for young people will also appeal to adult readers. Such texts defy classification because they reflect on human experiences that are of concern to all generations. Junky Girl, by Anna Kuschnarowa, belongs in this category; a book powerful enough to make a splash in a wider literary context, yet hopefully will end up in the hands of a 15-year-old teenager.

The 17-year-old Alissa describes the path that led her to a career in drugs. Can the descent into addiction be considered a career? Yes, because it involves a good deal of euphoria, bravado and social acceptance. Anna Kuschnarowa looks directly into the hell that blazes inside the heroin-addicted Alissa. Alissa comes from a family that lacks nothing in terms of material wealth. The mother keeps a close rein on her children. They are expected to be well-behaved and, as a good Christian family, they are expected to attend church on Sunday. As a result of their principles, the family loses sight of their sensitive daughter who is at the difficult crossroads between childhood and becoming an adult.

Alissa is a wallflower at school. She is teased by the boys, and when they steal her clothes while she is swimming, Tara comes to her rescue. The older girl is confident while also being sensitive, she uses make-up, wears short skirts and her appearance lies somewhere between Goth Girl and Vampirella, the very opposite of the conformist kids in high school. Being accepted by Tara, and feeling the warmth of her closeness, helps Alissa flourish, gives her courage and at the same time makes her rebel against her strict parents.

From the first moment Alissa visits Tara– who has been living with her grandparents since her parents died in an accident – she causes a stir in the family. Soon, though, Alissa starts hanging out with her new friends in local dives, staying out first for one night, then for two. Her family tries to ground her for her escapades, but the conflict escalates to the point where she runs away.

Later she will say: "The time I spent with Tara was the best time of my life. And the shittiest." She has sex for the first time, smokes joints, pops pills. She sleeps on the floor of what used to be a factory, and enjoys life in Berlin’s sub-culture. Alissa shoots-up for the first time and Tara pays for it with her small inheritance. Soon the two girls move into an apartment together and when the money is used up, they begin a rapid descent that leads them down the dark road to street prostitution.

Most impressive about this novel is Anna Kuschnarowa’s linguistic prowess as she moves through the various milieus lining Alissa’s path. From a petty bourgeois affluent family, to the girl’s delicate love, to the wretched moments when under the influence of drugs, their trust turns into bitter disappointment, through to the terrible moments of cold turkey and sexual cruelty which Alissa faces with indifference, the voice of the 17-year-old is always recognizable. Anna Kuschnarowa tells a richly adventurous tale, without any visible trace of literary artifice or construction.

The 37-year-old Anna Kuschnarowa, who was born in Würzburg and teaches Middle Egyptian at the University of Leipzig, keeps the story moving at a fast pace. This novel has speed because the prose stays physical. Kuschnarowa doesn’t bother with creating profiles of her characters; they come to life through their actions. You can palpably feel the relationship between the girls and the powerful feelings that flow between them. At every moment, despite the tragedy, love plays a vital role. Kuschnarowa watches closely during sex, and during the torture of withdrawal; she does not shy away from her subject. She convincing concludes the book without speculating on shocking details and without attempting to smooth over the indelible marks of addiction. "Junkgirl" is a text with substance that describes the martyrdom of addiction in the unmistakable voice of a young heroine who is able to evolve. Like all literature which captures the intensity of life, this novel promises to electrify readers to the very last page. 
Thomas Linden

By Thomas Linden, 19.03.2012

​Thomas Linden is a journalist (Kölnische Rundschau, WWW.CHOICES.DE) specializing in the areas of literature, theater and film. He also curates exhibitions on photography and picture book illustration.

Translated by Zaia Alexander