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5.0 1
by Michelle D. Kwasney

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After the death of her beloved Gramps, Delores Colchester, better known as “Itch,” moves with her grandmother from Florida to Ohio. Starting over is hard, and Itch feels like an outsider in her new school, until she becomes friends with popular baton-twirling Gwendolyn. On the outside, Gwendolyn seems perfect: talented, smart, and beautiful. But she


After the death of her beloved Gramps, Delores Colchester, better known as “Itch,” moves with her grandmother from Florida to Ohio. Starting over is hard, and Itch feels like an outsider in her new school, until she becomes friends with popular baton-twirling Gwendolyn. On the outside, Gwendolyn seems perfect: talented, smart, and beautiful. But she has a dark secret, which Itch begins to suspect and soon discovers is true. “Speaking up takes courage,” Gramps had always told Itch, and she’s about to discover just how much.

Michelle D. Kwasney weaves a compelling story about child abuse, family, and friendship against the backdrop of the late 1960s.


Itch is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - JoAn Watson Martin
Delores adores her grandpa, and even accepts his pet name for her. Itch was appropriate after she got into poison ivy. But his heart attack changed her and Gram's life. Selling the house and his 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, leaving her best friend, Bailey, and starting a new school in 6th grade is terrible. Moving from Florida to Ohio means she and Gram will live in Lazy Acres Mobile Home Park. After Delores meets Wendy, the winner of the 1968 Lakeville Talent Show, and Billy, the paper boy, life improves some. Both Billy and Delores become suspicious when they see welts on Wendy. Delores remembers Gramps telling her, "Speaking up takes courage." Is Wendy being abused? By whom? What can they do? "Life isn't fair," Delores tells Billy. "It ain't life's fault, "Billy said. "It's people who mess things up." Michelle Kwasney writes the sadness of moving, the mystery of mamas, and how hard it is to grow up. The story is so well written that 12-year-old girls won't be able to stop turning the pages. Included is a list of dictionary words that Itch has collected, a perfect list to tell her story. Reviewer: JoAn Watson Martin
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8

It's the 1960s, and after Itch's beloved Gramps dies, Gram relocates them from Florida to an Ohio trailer park. Itch is apprehensive, but, guided by her memories of irrepressible Gramps, she enters this unfamiliar world with aplomb, starting sixth grade in a new school and even making friends with the popular, baton-twirling Gwendolyn. Itch's mother deserted her long ago, but her grandparents have raised her with common sense and love, and Itch must draw on her inner resources and Gramps's wisdom when she discovers that her friend is being physically and psychologically abused by her mother. "'Speaking up takes courage,' he once told her. 'Growing up helps, too.'" The dramatic ending is emotionally satisfying, the story is layered with insight for the daughters of abusive and/or abandoning mothers, and the author's pleasure in language is contagious, but this novel's greatest strength is its indelible characters. Gramps is more alive in Itch's memory than most of the breathing people around her, making his physical loss even more palpable. Itch herself is a quirky and endearing heroine who grows as she forges her way through loss and grief, the tangled lives of adults, and the trials of middle school. Gwendolyn is no pitiful victim, but a believable child, somewhat twisted by her mother's sad ambitions. For all the tough subjects that this book contains, it has a buoyancy that lifts it above the category of problem novel. Itch's coming-of-age is a rich and satisfying journey.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

Kirkus Reviews
"Itch" is what Delores's Gramps call her. After he dies, and she and Grams move from their house in Florida to a trailer park in Ohio, Delores decides to look for a new identity. She makes friends with baton-twirling Gwendolyn and, through her, a stylish clique at school. She also befriends Billy, who shares her love of fishing and appreciates her fascination with words. Even with these new friends, she worries about losing her best friend back in Florida, jealously scanning her letters for hints of betrayal. Set in 1968, this novel of friendship is peppered fairly obviously with period details, and more skillfully with issues of classism and domestic violence. The almost entirely character-driven plot gets a finishing touch from a thin narrative arc involving Gramps's old Bel Air. Kwasney's characters are prone to corniness and hyper-astute self-awareness, but they still manage to be fully fleshed and memorable. The melodramatic touches will most likely appeal to readers looking for another making-friends-at-a-new-school book. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.66(w) x 8.55(h) x 1.00(d)
630L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Unjust: marked by injustice; unfair.

I have liked that word ever since it appeared on our spelling list in second grade. Right after, I began noticing how often Brother Thompson used it in his Sunday sermons. "The sins of an unjust few imperil the masses!" he would shout, slapping his hand on the podium. And all thirty-seven of us—unless Widow Pickett was ailing, in which case there would be thirty-six—would lift our voices and exclaim, "Amen! " Beaver Creek Baptists were big on hollering amen.

Still, I spotted those unjust acts everywhere.

Take Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop, who owned half the town of Beaver Creek. Each Sunday morning they’d drop a measly quarter in the collection plate while my best friend Bailey Parncutt’s mama and papa, who couldn’t afford an indoor toilet, gave fifty cents. Or two-faced Lenny Potts, who acted like one of the twelve disciples during the service, then headed home to whip the daylights out of his son, Lenny Junior.

Gram tells me I shouldn’t dwell on these thoughts— that the good Lord keeps tabs on everybody, and He’ll dole out what’s due when the time is right.

But Gramps understood me. He was just a kid when a bunch of angry white men torched the black town of Rosewood over a crime Gramps claimed a black man didn’t even commit. He seldom met more than a few folks who agreed with him, but that didn’t change his thinking any. Gramps had an opinion about everything—President Johnson, the Vietnam War, the sit-ins over in Alabama, you name it. When something wasn’t right by him, he spoke his piece and paid the price.

I wished I could be more like him in that way. I have always been shy in the speaking-up department. My brain’s a miniature thought factory, whizzing and whirring, kicking up notions like they’re a dime a dozen. But opening my mouth and sending those thoughts on their way is a whole ’nother matter.

What if I sound stupid? I ask myself. Where’ll I hide if people laugh?

One day I decided I would ask what the secret was. "Gramps," I said, "I’ve got a question for you," which was how most of our conversations started.

And he said, "What would that be, Itch?" Gramps had started calling me Itch four summers ago, following an especially bad case of poison ivy. In time, Gram took a hankering to it, as well. I didn’t mind—not with a name like Delores.

"How do you do it?" I asked Gramps. "How do you say what’s on your mind without worrying you’ll rub folks the wrong way?"

He said, "I’d have to be a nincompoop not to worry. Speaking up takes courage."

"Courage," I repeated.

Gramps nodded. "Growing up helps, too."

I scratched my head. "Yeah? When’s this growing up usually happen?"

"For you"—his chin puckered as he studied my face— "I’d say it’s just around the corner."

Dang, if Gramps wasn’t right.

Everything that followed from that moment onward was fixing to see to it I grew up. Except I’m not talking about gaining two inches in height or adding a shoe size, though both have happened since. I mean that other kind of growing up. The invisible stuff that happens inside your head, whispering so loud you can’t miss it. Psssst. Don’t look now, but you ain’t a kid anymore.

But there I go, getting ahead of myself—something Gram claims I do altogether too often. I’ll back it up—to the summer after I finished fifth grade and still believed there was nothing an orange Creamsicle and a ride in Gramps’s Chevy couldn’t cure. The summer Gramps died and Gram got the notion of moving us up north. The summer I met an almost-famous baton twirler named Gwendolyn who offered me a close-up look at unjust.

Yes, that’s where I’ll begin. At the beginning. Which was really an ending in disguise.

Excerpted from Itch by Michelle D. Kwasney

Copyright © 2008 by Michelle D. Kwasney

Published in 2008 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

MICHELLE D. KWASNEY is the author of the young adult novel Baby Blue. She holds a master’s degree in education, and has worked as an elementary-school art educator in the public schools of Massachusetts and New York for twenty years. Michelle lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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Itch 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You will not be able to put this book down after you begin reading. Itch becomes an inspiration as she grieves her grandfather's death. I am reading it for the second time and I am enjoying it all over again! Thanks Michelle for having me remember my gramps and the lessons he taught me along the way!