As an apology for my tardiness with reviews lately (I blame Real Life), have a review a day early 🙂
Itch has an unusual hobby – while other kids collect football cards, Itch prefers to collect elements. Specifically, elements from the Periodic Table of Elements, which shows all the building blocks of the universe grouped by similarities. Basically, if it ain’t on the Table, it don’t exist.
Itch however gets a nasty introduction to the dangers of his new hobby though when, mere hours after blowing his eyebrows off in a chemical blast, Itch finds himself accidentally gassing his classmates out of the school greenhouse. After a spot of violent vomiting with his classmates and teacher, he discovers the culprit is some arsenic wallpaper he’d collected as part of his hobby and stuffed in his bag. This slight mishap causes Itch to seek out his element dealer Cake and tell him off for flogging him something dangerous without letting him know. When he finds Cake though, Cake has a new element to tempt him with, with what looks like Cornish tin in it. One problem though – the rock’s changing colour…
Someone once told me about the difference between geeks and nerds. Geeks (as I understand it) are mad about a certain tv show, book or other (usually scifi) and will know everything to know about it in minute detail. A nerd however will actually know something useful, will generally be fantastic at science and/or maths and be able to explain in minute detail exactly why events in the geek’s silly scifi programme are physically impossible. I am most definitely a geek. This brain has no nerdiness to it at all. If I were a boat in a sea of science, I would be one very waterlogged little boat. You know the kind, the one waving a little white flag as it sinks below the waves. HOWEVER, that did not stop me from loving this book and, what’s more, wanting to go back and reread my GCSE Science notes and read up on things like Sodium, Lithium and various other elements that have a habit of going BANG.
Mayo very cleverly gets the amount of explanation to story just right – Itch’s cousin Jack basically stands in for us and asks the relevant questions the reader would like to ask, such as ‘why is this rock so warm?’ and ‘what’s this radiation malarkey again?’. So we find out what the Table of Elements is, how dangerous arsine gas is and how it was made from the arsenic in the wallpaper and why this rock that Itch has is going to be so special. Despite my un-nerdiness, at no point did I get bored with the science, nor did it zoom over my head – rather, it fired up my interest in the subject. I SO want to watch a magnesium ribbon burn again… in fact, I shall!
Mayo has also created some awesome bad guys – Flowerdew is worse than the worst teacher you can imagine and really is an epic baddy. I love the faceoffs he has with Itch and I especially love his backstory of oil rigs, deception and scapegoating. I would really like to see the return of Flowerdew in a sequel – you just know you’d be on to an epic revenge scene with him involved. I’m particularly fond of the fight scene he has with the other teachers, desperate as he is to get his hands on Itch’s rock and I’m intrigued by the company he keeps too. This is a man who’s backstory is begging to be explored some more.
One thing I really admired about Mayo’s writing is his ability to get right into what it is really like inside a school. He wrote about things I hadn’t remembered for a good ten years or so, but as soon as he mentioned it, it was like I was back in my whacking great comprehensive, sat in the front row in my dodgy school jumper with the deliberate hole. So often I read books that try to recreate a school atmosphere in their book but this is the first I can remember that really nailsit. It’s so subtly done, so much so that I can’t remember any one thing that really made me feel that ‘yes, that’s so like my old school!’, it’s a cumulative thing. It makes it so much more real and exciting when the school in the books reads like your school, like your average school day, it feels less like a fictional world and more like a real setting.
With all this talk of science though I wouldn’t blame you for wondering if this is going to be making it onto school reading lists sometime soon. It’s up for debate about whether that’d be a good or bad thing but this book, while being about science, is equally as much about greed and moral integrity as it is the universe’s building blocks. Cake will stay with me for a long time, as will those chapters detailing an oil corporation’s next slicing, calculated move. The argument about what to do with the rock gets twisted about by each interested party and it’s left to Itch to be the moral compass. What follows is a cracking adventure read that really did keep me guessing about what Itch would decide to do and why. I could almost seeing it ending a completely different way – I was kept second guessing right up until I turned over the page to start the last chapter and couldn;t stop myself from skim-reading it to find out how it ended. I guess technicaly it could be lumped under the heading of an educational read, but it’s got more to it than just science facts – they’re the added bonus on top of the whipsnap! plot.
In short, Itch is a great read from start to finish: from the moment Itch recovers consciousness to discover himself eyebrowless, to Flowerdew’s showdown with the teachers, to…. well, I wouldn’t want to say anymore. An ending to such an epic adventure shouldn’t be given away in some blog – go and see what I’m on about!