Mayo, Simon. Itch
1 March 2013, Doubleday Childrens
ARC from Baker and Taylor.
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central
Itchingham Lofte fancies himself an element collector, a past time which has lead to so many unfortunate explosions in his home that his sister Chloe is prepared with a fire extinguisher, and his mother eventually makes him take his collection outside. After he obtains some antique wallpaper from a dealer named Cake, he takes it to school. Unfortunately, his class spends the morning in the hot, damp green house, and the paper releases arsenic gas that makes all of his classmates sick and closes the school for a couple of weeks! After his father (who works offshort on an oil rig and doesn't come home much) arranges a summer internship at a mine for Itch and his cousin Jack (a girl), Itch runs in to Cake again and gets a few more rocks from him. When he shows a strange one to his teachers, one, Flowerdew, decides to "send it to Switzerland to be tested", when in reality he is planning on selling it to the highest bidder because it's radioactive and could power a lot of things. Jack and Itch find Cake again, but he's dying of radiation poisoning and gives them more of the very dangerous rocks, with directions that Flowerdew must NOT have them. Along with Chloe, the children set off to steal back the rock and hide the others. Will it be enough? Apparently not, since there is a sequel, Itch Rocks, coming out in the UK on 28 February 2013. No clue when it will be released in the US-- most likely next year.
Strengths: Lots of science AND lots of action. The science never bogged down the story or felt pedantic. I liked Itch, the supporting characters were all fun, especially his beleaguered parents.
Weaknesses: This would have been a bit better if more tightly edited. At one point, I got a bit weary of the running about eluding villains.
An additional review from Christopher, 7th grade:
Itch is a well-written, fast-paced book about a boy who collects elements. But when he collects an element he believes to be uranium, but is many times more radioactive, which means it is many times more powerful. With the help of his cousin Jack, his science teacher, and his little sister, he goes on an adventure to find the nature of the rock and keep it and the world sage from those who would use the rock for evil.
I would rate this book an 8 out of 10. It was mildly suspenseful, but not as much as is preferable to me. It is entirely action packed, a little too much, but is very good nevertheless. The author had key insight into the mind of an advanced student, and into the mind of the teachers, or so I thought. Overall, good, not perfect, but fairly close.
Couloumbis, Audrey. Not Exactly a Love Story.
11 December 2012, Random House Books for Young Readers
Vinnie's life is fairly typical for 1977-- his parents are divorcing because his career woman mother is fed up with his actor father. Just when Vinnie gets used to this, his mother decides to marry his gym teacher and move to Long Island to get out of the city. Moving in November is hard, and while Mr. B., his new stepfather is making a great effort, Vinnie misses his father. He notices the neighbor girl, who is quiet pretty but whom he feels would never pay any attention to him, and finds her phone number when a jock drops it in the locker room. He starts calling her every night at midnight. She thinks he is an obscene caller at first, but the two slowly talk more and more, looking forward to their (on her part) anonymous conversations. Vinnie starts running, to try to make his stepfather happy, tries to fit in to his new school, and tries to help his mother figure out what she wants from a family situation-- it clearly is NOT cooking! Eventually, Vinnie meets Patsy in real life and gets along well with her, but isn't sure that this will be true if she knows about his phone altar ego.
Strengths: I was definitely drawn into the story, more because I was interested in Vinnie's step family situation. The book was clearly set in 1977 without overplaying this fact. The phone calls with Patsy, while a bit far fetched, were realistically portrayed. I'll definitely have Surly Teen Boy read this one when he returns home.
Weaknesses: Several gratuitous f-bombs as well as a discussion of parents having affairs, were completely unnecessary, so I won't be buying this. Sure, authors can make the choice to use these words; I can also make the choice to use the little money I have to support OTHER choices. I also doubt that today's teens will understand talking on the phone OR the idea of an anonymous call without caller id or a call back feature.