Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo

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Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Itch and the books all have a stupid name, but this series seems to make gutsy teenaged adventure almost elementary…
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 9780857531322

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Itchingham Lofte, we are told, is the most protected boy in the world. While I hadn't read the first book about him, we are snappily and easily informed that he has previously been involved in an adventure regarding a very rare chemical – element 126 – and the various people that would control it. While it's obvious to all those in his Cornish village and at his school that something major happened, due to him disappearing for a couple of months of specialised medical care, and returning with an MI5 armed guard constantly at watch over him and his family, only those few people (mum, dad, sister, tomboy cousin, and his various guards) have any idea of what has happened. Oh, and of course a couple of enemies resilient enough to turn up for the sequel…

It's nice to report that it's not just the exposition that's snappy here, for everything is in this hefty chunk of novel. With an awful pun, that also includes the characters – for legs get broken, people get burnt, and injuries can happen to anyone with some fairly strong visual detail at times. I'm not saying this is all-out grue, and while it's great to have realistic threat with nobody living under the author's protective wing, the suggestion it's for the ten-year-old and up is a bit liberal. That meaty action that's on almost every page still allows room for calmer periods of introspection and good dialogue, but in its way through two climaxes it brings in subjects like ecology, global business, good science versus bad science – and a lot of trivial-seeming chemistry.

While the science in this fiction is a little cheesy at times (ooh, here's a school that just handily leaves nitric acid bottles lying around when they're most needed…) it is warming to have a main hero with such an interest in nerdy subjects, even if he protests of having too few friends at school. He has female company, he has smarts, and he has a great strength at carrying on and doing what he must, making him a character for many a reader to look up to.

If anything might appear a problem it is that thing that Itch must do. For a lot of the book I, with my aforementioned ignorance, was not sure where this lay in a series. Was it the transitional middle third of a trilogy, I wondered, for with such a firmly established returning cast, and such an obvious repetition of what had gone before, this seemed at times like a sequel that was nowhere as vital as the first. That snappy exposition showed that book one had a great amount of drama and intrigue, while this might well be just too close a retread. In the end I can see that returning fans will easily lap up more of the same, but I still feel that the first volume might be the better one, and the book reviewing gods may have pulled the short straw for me.

Still, there is kinetic energy all over these pages, with film-show presenter Mayo definitely envisaging this as a wide-screen blockbuster and not just a TV piece. With a beefy – yet not exclusively boy's own – sense of adventure, this intelligent action piece is bound to survive in the marketplace and on the reader's shelf, despite it's awful title, and may even succeed in its secondary desire, to bring more young lads back to the school science lab.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy, and say hello to Jason Isaacs.

Books like George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt by Lucy Hawking and Stephen Hawking have a similar, Reithian idea about edutainment, but for younger audiences. For teens, The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks has hardly had a bad word said against it.

Buy Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo at Amazon.com.


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