Book Review: Itch by Simon Mayo


Author: Simon Mayo
Published: 25 October 2012
Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Summary: A terrifically fun and wonderfully engaging debut.

Chemistry is widely considered as one of the most difficult subjects to make exciting, but Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for doing so: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch; the story of fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential.

At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is; despite being the youngest, Chloe is the most sensible of the trio and keeps her likeable brother in check as his escapades teeter on the verge of disaster. Jack brings an abundance of smarts to the dynamic, helping Itch see through his more risky moments with a tomboyish expertise. Mayo has written all three of the central trio brilliantly, and you can’t help but wonder if some traits of his own children have contributed to the mixture.

As for the chemistry included, it’s well measured, clear and undeniably fascinating; from learning how the household objects you own relate to the periodic table, to explanations of explosive reactions, there is enough here to justify Itch as an informative text without ever suffocating the exciting plot. I recently wrote a piece arguing that the Pokémon games successfully communicate biological principles to their target audience, and I think it’s fair to say that Itch does the same for Chemistry.

Being set in modern-day Cornwall (and being a young adult title), a good proportion of Itch takes place in the central trios’ school. Mayo has always been vocal of his love of the Harry Potter series and some of the disastrous goings on at Cornwall Academy echo some of the more memorable happenings in the classrooms of Hogwarts. However, whilst there was always the healing properties of magic to help smooth things over in Rowling’s universe, the potential consequences of Itch’s exploits are more serious, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength: whilst tremendous fun, there is the constant, underlying feeling that the main characters in Itch may well be about to come to serious harm.

Itch by Simon Mayo is available now


Does anyone have any similar book recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jack Croxall

Jack Croxall is an author/scriptwriter living in Nottinghamshire. He tweets via @JackCroxall and you can visit his author blog by clicking the 'Website' link below.

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Posted on in , with 6 Comments.


  1. danpentagram

    Despite being completely different in plot, i can’t help but see similarities in Eoin Colfer’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ series. God knows why that pops in to my head?

  2. Jack Croxall

    Oh, I see what you mean actually – although they are very different, Itch isn’t an anti-hero and the book’s set in the ‘real’ world, but yeah, maybe they’re tonally similar? It’s been a long time since I read an Artemis Fowl book so I’m not sure!

  3. Andrew Harmsworth

    It’s a great book, although he gets it wrong about “neon lights” more than once, muddling them up with mercury-based fluorescent strip lights. Either that or there are some weirdly-lit buildings in Cornwall! Neon lights are bright orange… but a Very Good Read. Highly recommended.

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