It’s time to review my favourite contemporary YA novel of all time for this blog. Meat Market by Juno Dawson is a stunning story with a protagonist that as an adult I wanted to protect with everything I have. I don’t think I’ve ever cared about a character in this way before, it honestly hurt so much to read her story because it felt so real. It is brutal, emotive and honest, feels so faithful to London, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Jana Novak is the child of immigrants from war in the Balkans (Serbia to be exact). They’re not devastatingly poor but they do struggle for money on occasion. Jana is tall and androgynous looking, which has resulted in frequent bullying from the other kids at school. But one day, on a trip to a theme park, she is scouted by a modelling agency which changes her life forever.
Entering the world of modelling is a shock to the system for Jana. She has to learn to walk in heels, work the catwalk and figure out what the hell she’s supposed to do at photo-shoots, all whilst taking a full load of A-levels as she begins Sixth Form. It’s not all glamour – Jana never had to worry about what she chooses to eat before, but now she’s always being watched. Not to mention the petty drama from her classmates.
As Jana becomes a worldwide star, her life is anything but glamorous. She is put up in dodgy modelling apartments across the world that are barely fit to live in, sharing with other girls who are all exhausted from demanding schedules. Castings are uncomfortable, sometimes including hours of waiting with nowhere to sit. Jana’s life is a merry-go-round of flights, shoots, catwalks, and the odd stop at home to catch up with her boyfriend Ferdy. But the money is great, and every time she feels like she wants to quit she thinks of her family, and decides to keep going.
Naturally, her mental health deteriorates, particularly after a harrowing event in which she is sexually harassed by a famous photographer. Her modelling agency is full of irresponsible adults who do nothing for the protection well-being of the models, and even send them unaccompanied to known sex offenders. Xanax helps but turns the world to a foggy, repetitive mess.
Despite the darkness, there are moments of light. There is so much empowerment of women and girls, Ferdy is an incredible boyfriend, and Jana’s friend Sabah is so supportive.
Never have I felt so protective of a character before. Jana is so innocent and caring, and it hurt so much to see her go from dealing with petty stuff from people at school to every nasty thing the modelling world threw at her.
Anyway, I can’t give this book enough praise. It’s conversational style makes it so easy to fly through which is great given how addictive the plot is. The ending is powerful and fitting. Every chapter has a purpose. Juno Dawson has created a masterpiece, and I will always recommend it. Do look out for the trigger warnings: eating disorders, sexual assault, drug use, body shaming.
I don’t know anyone else who has read this book so please comment if you have. Did you like it? Have you read any other books by Juno Dawson? Let me know!