Book Review Series: The Hit by Melvin Burgess

The NCRCL Book Review Series is a monthly series written by a NCRCL student published on the first Wednesday of every month. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Review of The Hit by Melvin Burgess

by Emma Walker

‘Part One: Death’. We have well and truly landed in the recent Melvin Burgess novel, The Hit (2013). Imagine popping a pill which propels you into a life of pure ecstasy, energy and optimism. Surrounded by a society that is crumbling, this pill will make you high on life. The only catch? You die after the best week of your life. No antidote, no acquittal. This is the premise of The Hit, which promises to be as hard hitting and controversial as Burgess’s previous novels, including the notorious Junk (1996) and Doing It (2003).

Burgess depicts a restless society that is unhappy with the failing structures that the government enforce. The rich live decadently, and the poor feel the pinch more than ever. Within this restrictive and failing social structure, Adam, the protagonist, struggles to create a sense of identity. These Marxist ideas are made all the problematic, as his adolescent state is already a time of flux, a time which denies a secure sense of self. The Hit manifests these deep social and individual preoccupations in many scenes, including the opening chapter. Riots begin to break out at a Jimmy Earle concert, a cultural icon in the novel, and through these riots there is a call for change. Adam and Lizzie witness the death of Jimmy on stage which sparks a cataclysmic revolution. Jimmy has taken Death. The threat, allure and temptation of this pill come to encompass the plot, and haunt the characters through the novel.

The pains of teenage existence are portrayed exactly in the novel, something which Burgess has down to a fine art. After Adam has fallen victim to unyielding love, endures a family bereavement and his future is pulled out from underneath him, Death seems like an appealing option. Adam examines his meagre existence and in a moment of bereft loneliness, and does what we all question we would do; he swallows the pill. He becomes a slave to his body and time. With a typically adolescent bucket list to fulfil, his relationship with Lizzie is pushed to its limits.

The Hit is seemingly a novel of polarities; life and death, rich and poor, revolution and peace. However, corrupt criminals, psychotic gangsters, and dangerous mind games all become tied up in Adam’s last week and the novel begins to gather pace. There is something darker brewing beneath the surface and it is enough to make you squirm. The twist that is revealed is distinctly uncomfortable to read, but nevertheless riveting. This is one of the great qualities of Burgess; he encourages the young adult reader face unpleasant elements of the novel, and by extension, life.

The Hit examines aspects of Marxist theory through the presentation of Adam’s personal development against society he lives in, and the commodification of Death. Whilst there are strong political strands running through the novel, ultimately, The Hit is a novel with one clear message; to live life. The novel is an ambassador for young adult fiction, as it does not shy away from controversial and thought provoking subjects. Burgess remains at the forefront of adolescent fiction, always pushing the boundaries. The Hit is an absorbing novel which stays with you long after you have read it; a mark of true success.

About the Reviewer:

Emma Walker

Name: Emma Walker, current MA student in Children’s Literature at Roehampton
Research Area: My interests include: constructions of identity, representations of heroines, and symbolism of food in YA Fiction and Poetry
Path to Roehampton in 140 characters: BA at Roe. Dissertation on identity in YA fiction. Year away. Love for children’s literature grew. Now back for more where I belong!
Favourite (secret) re-read: The Railway Children by E.Nesbit and the Harry Potter series!
Unsung Picture Book: The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
Unsung Young Adult Novel: Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman

Also, check out Emma’s food & children’s literature blog, The Fantastical Food of Harry Potter.

Series edited by Erica Gillingham