It’s probably best off, in the interests of full disclosure, to admit that I don’t like YA contemporary. As a general rule, I find teenage protagonists to be annoying, whiny, arrogant and entitled. I obviously knew that Meat Market was a YA contemporary, but the blurb hinted at something more, something darker, so I picked it up anyway. Whilst I didn’t find the main character of Meat Market to be super irritating, it still remains that this book wasn’t really for me.
Plot summary for Meat Market:
Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom. But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn. Jana is an ordinary girl from a south London estate, lifted to unimaginable heights. But the further you rise, the more devastating your fall …
Honest and raw, this is a timely exposé of the dark underbelly of the fashion industry in an era of #TimesUp and #MeToo. It might just be Juno Dawson’s most important book yet.
Star rating for Meat Market: * * * 1/2 (three and a half stars)
I have mixed feelings about Meat Market. It’s a very issue-driven novel that deals with sexual assault and (somewhat) trial by media, which is obviously very relevant in the current era of #MeToo. It’s done really well, which I’ll talk more about in a second. Unfortunately the whole book is framed around that one issue, which doesn’t kick in until about two thirds of the way through and feels a bit forced when it does. The non-assault parts just aren’t as well-thought out or interesting, and it fell a bit flat.
But yes, the main Point of the novel is excellent. A form of sexual assault occurs, which the main character raises as an issue, but isn’t believed. I have never been in that position and I imagine it’s different for everyone, but her words and thoughts felt real. They felt genuine.
The novel includes excerpts from various (fictitious) media articles which lambast her for various reasons, and they packed a punch so hard (and resonated as accurate) that it made me feel slightly nauseous.
… and the rest of it
So while I really respected and appreciated the above, I really didn’t get on with the remainder (which is a large portion of Meat Market).
I think my biggest issue was the main character’s voice. Jana Novak sounds like a grown adult attempting to sound like a teenager… which it obviously is. The first few pages reference everything possible to make the content modern and accessible – Game of Thrones, Ed Sheeran, Grenfell, the death of David Bowie… It seems quite a cheap way of making teenagers nod along.
And then she’s so inconsistent. She’ll sometimes use slang and informal sentences – ‘Wasn’t going to bother. Don’t like it,’ etc and other times she writes like a normal human being. At one point she says, ‘I could find my way to big TopShop blindfolded,’ and a few pages later tells us that she only shops at retro t-shirt stores! And apparently she’s worried about tuition fees… an issue which no 16 year old in the entire damn country is concerned about! Am I being picky? Yes. Too picky? Possibly. But it annoyed me how so much effort clearly went into the #MeToo aspects, but apparently almost none into the rest of it.
Some of Jana’s decisions just made me want to bang my head against a wall. They just made no sense. And it’s just not realistic. Her protective Serbian parents just let her wander the globe on her own to do a job which they must know is infamous for sex and drugs. She somehow goes from innocent newbie to practiced pro in about three pages with zero passage of time.
Argh. Look, okay, I know that a book like this has to end on a hopeful note. But this is just… twee. And weird. Everything is magically fixed! Jana’s career is sorted, the modelling industry has changed overnight, her boyfriend takes her back (which he shouldn’t), her friends forgive her… there is zero comeuppance for the mistakes that she made. Not the assault, for clarification.
I do generally prefer happy endings in books, but this is just too much. There’s a middle ground, you know?
Age ratings! Warnings! Triggers! General awfulness!
It boggles my mind that this was in the teenage section of Waterstones (and my local library). Yes, I know the main character is 16 and the writing is such that feels like a Young Adult novel.
But the content is horific. And not just in relation to the #MeToo aspects. Consensual, somewhat graphic, sex is a thing also, on multiple occasions. The warning on the back of the book recommends Meat Market for 14+ only, but honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for 14, 15 or 16 year olds. I can’t post examples without being too spoilery but I sent excerpts to my (30 year old) friends, who were equally shocked (and grossed out).
Oh, there’s a lot of swearing too, but I’m less bothered about that.
I picked up Meat Market because I thought it would be an interesting look into the modelling world and all its dirt. Whilst part of that dirt, the sexual assault, was done very well indeed (to an angry-making extent), the rest of it (drugs, body image, diet, eating disorders, etc) wasn’t really touched upon.
I was disappointed by the parts of this novel that didn’t directly relate to that issue. It was so heavily focused on #MeToo that I felt the rest of it became slightly overlooked. I would have been interested to see Meat Market redone with exactly the same issues… but from an adult perspective.
I did initially rate this as three stars, but I’ve upped it by half a star given that I’m still thinking about it a fortnight later!
What did you think of Meat Market? Worth the hype or over-rated?