Book: Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter
Author: Simon Mayo (@SimonMayo)
Age Range: 12 and up
Itch is a young adult thriller featuring an unusual hero. Itchingham Lofte (aka Itch) is a total science geek. His passion is collecting elements from the periodic table. When a fellow collector shares a very unusual rock with Itch, Itch soon finds himself, and his family, in grave danger.
Itch is in many ways a classic YA thriller. There are chases. There are over-the-top bad guys. There is a need for the hero to be brave. But there is also science. Instead of using conventional weapons, Itch turns to the elements when he's in a tight corner. He gets excited about watching a sample analyzed in a lab. He burns off his eyebrows in the first chapter, in a mishap with phosphorus. His sister Chloe and best friend/cousin Jack (short for Jacqueline) are more regular (and more mainstream popular) than Itch, but the hero's journey here belongs to the science geek.
Itch, written by an English radio presenter, is set mostly in Cornwall. There's definitely a British feel to the book. Take this little exchange, from Chapter 1:
""Hello, Itchingham," said his mother. "Still no eyebrows, then."
There should be a law against parents using sarcasm, thought Itch as he poured his cereal." (Page 13)
I don't know about you, but I hear Itch's Mom with an English accent there.
In addition to the details about the elements, there is quite a bit of information included in Itch about copper mining. And, just to keep things interesting, a bit about surfing. Who knew that surfing was a major pastime in Cornwall? Not me. But all of this is quite refreshing, together making Itch stand out from the pack.
I did find the start of the book a bit slow, but the action picks up after a bit, and the end of the book is both fast-paced and high-stakes. Not realistic, perhaps, but definitely high-stakes.
A sequel will be published in 2014. As Mayo left a couple of threads cunningly unresolved, I (and many others) will be waiting eagerly to find out what's next for Itch. With its green and black cover and blurb from Anthony Horowitz, Itch's target teen boy demographic is fairly clear. But I think that anyone who enjoys thrillers with teen protagonists could appreciate Itch. And I think that teachers and librarians will be happy to see a book that not only doesn't avoid but actually embraces science. Not science fiction, not high tech, but pure science. Rather refreshing that (despite the arsine gas accident and associated vomiting). Itch is well worth a look.
Publisher: Splinter (@SterlingKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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