Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter

Spring 2013 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Simon Mayo
ISBN: 978-1454905097
Hardcover Price: $16.95

Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte has trouble making friends. Other kids his age talk about television shows, video games, and sports, but Itch spends his time trying to collect all of the elements in the Periodic Table. After he blows off his eyebrows experimenting with phosphorus, his mother exiles his collection from the house. This is when Itch's hobby starts to get really dangerous, as he begins to carry all of his elements around in his backpack until they can be re-homed; and, as the eyebrow incident indicates, Itch is not terribly aware of the health hazards posed by many of the items in his collection. Even after unwittingly poisoning several classmates with arsenic, Itch is happy to pick up another element from one of his procurers. This initially appears to be uranium, but turns out to be an unbelievably powerful new element in the Periodic Table, which is so radioactive, it is fiercely coveted and pursued by global energy corporations, national powers, and terrorist groups for reasons ranging from the beneficent (solving the world energy crisis) to the scary (global terrorism). When the element is stolen by Itch's hated chemistry teacher, Itch realizes the terrible uses to which it might be put. He, his sister, and his cousin embark on a desperate quest across Cornwall to recover the stolen element and dispose of it before it causes further harm.

This fast-paced adventure is slightly reminiscent of the Harry Potter series in its attention to schoolroom dramas between bullies and outsiders and between teachers and students, but here, the magic comes from the everyday wonders of chemistry rather than from wizardry. This is Simon Mayo's debut novel, and at times it is overwritten and clunky in its occasional shifts from one narrative perspective to another. Overall, I was thoroughly absorbed, in fact frantic to find out how Itch was going to dispose of his element before it killed him and his hapless loved ones. The villains are deliciously evil, and Itch is a beautifully flawed-but-attractive protagonist who must balance his scientific passion against his social ethics. This is a wonderful page-turner that promises to form the basis of a fine series of science thrillers.

Naomi Lesley   ©2013 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

Look for this product at:
Sterling Publishing
212-532-7160 ext 125

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