Monday, July 22, 2013

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo

Some people collect baseball cards.

Others collect comic books.

Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte collect elements. You know, as in lead, sulfur, phosphorous, and the other elements that make up the periodic table. It's an unusual hobby, and one that often gets Itch into unexpected trouble.

Itch's element collection is pretty small, comprised of things he's scavenged from home or managed to buy from a peddler. But some elements are expensive, and some are too dangerous to be sold. When Itch buys a sample of what he thinks is uranium, but turns out to be an extremely radioactive unknown element that could change the world, he must figure out how to keep the rocks out of the clutches of villains who are willing to do anything to get their hands on the mysterious new element.

Itch, Simon Mayo's debut novel, stars an awkward, everyman hero, who must outwit and outrun evil, (figuratively) mustache-twirling villains, with the help of his younger sister and cousin. I really liked the relationship between Itch, his sister, and cousin, as well as the guts they displayed.

Coming in at over 400 pages, Itch is overlong, taking a while before the radioactive rock part of the plot is introduced, and I thought the denouement dragged a bit. Then again, how often do you see a middle grade/YA fiction storyline with this much science that doesn’t involve cloning, genetic engineering, or extreme weather? (An author’s note, with some background information about the scientific topics that are mentioned during the story, is included.) So I was willing to overlook some of the pacing issues, though I think it may deter some readers.

Possible readalikes: The Project by Brian Falkner (which is a much shorter book, but very much in the same regular-folks-see/get-something-then-are-chased-by-bad-guys vein), the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowtiz (except Alex is a trained spy and Itch...does not have the same physical skills), and maybe Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.

Book details:
Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo
Upper MG/YA Fiction
Published in the US in April 2013 (ISBN 9781454905097)

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