Former DJ Mayo's 'Itch' could be worth scratching

ITCH<br><b>Simon Mayo<br></b><i>Corgi A cracker of an adventure story for boys is Itch, a first novel by BBC radio DJ Simon Mayo. Itchingham Lofte, known as Itch, has a strange obsession - the 14-year-old is trying to collect all the elements on the periodic table, starting with the 98 that occur naturally.

No-one else seems to find elements fascinating and Itch thinks it is because this great subject has the world's dullest name and is all for changing it to the Rocks Factor or something equally gripping.

The book starts with a bang, as Itch sets his room (and his eyebrows) on fire with a phosphorus explosion, helpfully put out by his younger sister, Chloe, who keeps a fire bucket in her room for incidents like this.

Itch's mother reacts to the explosion by banning his collection from the house, so he moves it to the garden shed. He carries on collecting and even an accident he causes in the school greenhouse doesn't stop him.

Through an odd man who sells rocks, Itch acquires a specimen unlike anything he has seen before. With the help of his science teacher, who takes him to have it tested, Itch learns the unbelievable: he has a piece of a completely new element.

Unfortunately, there is a downside - Itch's rocks (he ends up with six) could be used to generate so much energy that oil would be obsolete, which doesn't suit a major energy company.

Of course, there is a mad scientist, who will stop at nothing to get element 126, as the rocks are provisionally classified, and Itch nearly comes to grief on several occasions but eventually wins through.

Parents will love this book because it has a solid factual base - for example, the use of arsenic as a green dye in Victorian times - while kids will enjoy it as a great adventure tale and will undoubtedly pick up some interesting info along the way. Although Itch is self-contained, there's a hint at the end of more to come: readers will be itching for more.

Gillian Vine is a Dunedin writer.