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
Gillian Vine is a Dunedin writer.