Itchby Michelle D. Kwasney
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.
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
Read an Excerpt
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
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!