Having read and enjoyed Itch, the first book in this series, earlier in the year, I was really eager to get my hands on the second book. Itch Rocks follows on directly from the events of the first book, in which Itchingham Lofte, an element hunter, discovers a brand new and highly radioactive element, number 126. When it becomes clear that various terrorists and ne’er-do-wells across the world will kill (literally) to get their hands on this new element, Itch hides the rocks by placing them down a deep well. Because he thinks that he is the only person who knows they are there, he thinks the drama is over, and he can go back to being a normal (if slightly odd) teenager.
Itch Rocks finds Itch back at school, but he’s struggling to fit in more than ever, given that the government, aware of how vulnerable Itch and his family are, have allocated an entire protection detail to look after them. Added to the fact that various nefarious forces across the world want to kidnap him in order to get him to give up the location of the rocks, Itch also has girl problems. He is a teenager, after all, and while he might be the most important teenager in the world, he still has all the usual problems that a teenage boy encounters.
The same thing happened with this book and the first one; I was really eager to read both of them, and I started them in a state of excitement, but they take a while to get going, so after reading a chapter or so, I put them aside and didn’t feel overly enthusiastic about picking them up again. But then, once I actually started reading properly, and the action gets going, I found both books impossible to put down. I actually think that Itch Rocks is the better of the two; the characters feel more rounded and the action is much more exciting.
One of the pleasant surprises about Itch Rocks is how well the teenage girls are written. Jack is Itch’s cousin, and his best friend, and she is with him for almost the entire novel. Although this is Itch’s story, Jack is the voice of reason a lot of the time, and their loyalty to one another is really touching. Itch’s younger sister, Chloe, doesn’t have an awful lot to do, but that’s mainly because Itch is so reluctant to put her in harm’s way, and so forces her to stay behind quite a lot. And then there’s Lucy, a girl who only popped up briefly in the first book, who stands out because she’s one of the few people at school who actually seems to like Itch. Lucy is a great character; she’s smart, funny and loyal, and she completes the quartet who take it upon themselves to save the world by preventing the rocks from ending up in the hands of the villain, Nathaniel Flowerdew. Itch is clearly clever, but he needs these three girls with him to help him, and I love that Simon Mayo has written the group like this; one boy and three girls.
I liked the villains; while Nathaniel Flowerdew, returning from the first book, seems to be slightly panto villain-ish at times, Shivvi Tan Fook, the other villain, is great. She’s cunning, ruthless, totally awful, and just takes no prisoners. Another great female character written by Mr Mayo.
The story is exciting and intelligent, and while some of the science goes over my head at times, it has definitely made me more interested in the periodic table and all the elements that make up our world. There are some interesting facts to learn, such as the fact that ingesting tellurium will result in your entire body emitting an garlic odour.
Itch Rocks is the second book in a proposed series of four, and the third book is due out in the autumn. I am really intrigued to find out where Itch’s story goes next, because the end of this book had a definite sense of denouement. I would definitely recommend this series for young teenagers, because they are clever and exciting, and have some great set-pieces and really engaging characters.
Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo
First published: February 2013