Itch

15843377

Author: Simon Mayo

Publication: 2014, Splinter

Pages: 407

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Itchingham Lofte is an element hunter.  He’s working to amass a collection of samples of each element on the periodic table.  And he experiments with items from his collection, with occasionally disastrous results.  But when he stumbles across a previously unknown and extremely powerful substance, he finds himself in a world of trouble.  Dangerous people want what he has and they’ll kill to get it.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: There are plenty of books that feature violence, magic, or a strong element of fantasy.  But I’ve rarely come across a thriller where the hero relies on science to get the job done.  Mayo mixes action with brief explanations of the elements, the periodic table, and scientific theory.  And Itch gets himself out of more than one tight spot with an explosive application of scientific know how.  It transports the nerd to center stage, giving him the spot traditionally occupied by jocks, hackers, and the popular crowd.  As a self-professed nerd in my own right, I couldn’t be happier.

Itch himself is a complex character – awkward with peers, but at ease with his sister and his cousin Jack; smart and inquisitive, but an abysmal failure at school; and as addicted to collecting elements as most people are to sports, video games, or drugs.  Indeed, the dealer he buys much of his best stuff from is a travelling hippy by the name of Cake who could easily pass for a pot dealer – except his drug of choice is unusual rocks and minerals.

What I Liked the Least: There are several antagonists in this book – all tied to a petroleum company called Greencorps.  But most of them come off as somewhat vanilla and not particularly frightening.  Itch’s most difficult struggles here center on trying to overcome his own worsening radiation sickness while searching for a full proof means of disposing of the deadly rocks.  The Greenscorps agents, on the other hand, make a couple of half-hearted attempts to nab him and then more or less fade into the background.  I know I’m supposed to be intimated by their chief enforcer, Roshanna Wing, but I never see her in action enough to really take her seriously as a villain.  So while Itch may face a lot of major challenges, his supposed arch enemies at Greencorps weren’t really one of them.

How Good was the Action?  While this is a thriller, most of the tension comes through rising uncertainty about how Itch can get rid of these rocks while battling radiation sickness and the goons from Greencorps.  There are a few brief action sequences, including a fairly stupendous one near the end where Itch has to descend into a crumbling well shaft and brave the filthy waters in its depths.  But this is less an action story than a scientific mystery with hints of dark, quirky comedy.

How Engaging was the Story?  I loved Itch as a character, and from his first explosive experiment with phosphorous, to the incident where he poisoned his entire class with a scrap of arsenic laced wallpaper, the trail of danger that his scientific curiosity carries him down was a lot of fun.  While there were moments during the first half when the story began to drag, for the most park this was a rollicking good ride with a very different kind of protagonist.  And even though the villains came across as far less intimidating then they could have been, there was still tension to spare.  

Overall Assessment: A fun adventure with a very different kind of hero.  Itchingham Lofte draws on his vast curiosity and scientific knowledge to foil his enemies and escape one deadly situation after another.  Intelligent and fun. 

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Very Little.  A couple of people get shot, but there’s not much in the way of blood.

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