Itch

Itch

by Polly Farquhar

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Overview

When everything around you is going wrong, how far would you go to fit in?

Isaac's sixth grade year gets off to a rough start.

For one thing, a tornado tears the roof off the school cafeteria. His mother leaves on a two month business trip to China. And as always. . . . there's the itch. It comes out of nowhere. Idiopathic, which means no one knows what causes it. It starts small, but it spreads, and soon—it's everywhere. It's everything. It's why everyone calls him Itch—everyone except his best friend Sydney, the only one in all of Ohio who's always on his side, ever since he moved here.

He's doing the best he can to get along—until everything goes wrong in the middle of a lunch swap. When Sydney collapses and an ambulance is called, Itch blames himself. And he's not the only one. When you have no friends at all, wouldn't you do anything—even something you know you shouldn't—to get them back?

Drawing on her own experiences with idiopathic angioedema and food allergies, Polly Farquhar spins a tale of kids trying to balance the desire to be ordinary with the need to be authentic—allergies, itches, confusion and all.

For everyone who's ever felt out of place, this debut novel set in the Ohio heartland is a warm, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking look at middle school misfits and misadventures. Whether you root for the Buckeyes or have no clue who they are, you'll be drawn into Itch's world immediately. This engaging debut is perfect for fans of See You in the Cosmos and Fish in a Tree.

A Junior Library Guild Selection


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823445523
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,150,801
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 2.00(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Polly Farquhar earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Ohio State University and her short stories have been published in literary magazines such as Prairie Schooner and the Mid-American Review. She is also the recipient of two Individual Artists Grants from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides with her husband and young daughters in the Columbus, Ohio area. Like Itch, Polly has an idiopathic angioedema and her daughters have managed life-threatening food allergies.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE DAY THE tornado came through, Sydney, Nate, and I were out riding our bikes together, burning down the banks of the river and then splashing into the water. The river was wide, slow, and muddy. The grass in the yards had turned a crunchy kind of yellow and the corn in the field that stood between us and the gas station was taller than even Nate. It was August. School started next week. Sixth grade.

Up at the top of the riverbank, Sydney rocked back and forth on her bike. "Ready?"

Nate already stood in the river with his bike, the water up to the middle of the wheels. The water was low because it had been dry, which was good because when there was a lot of rain the river turned green and stuff grew on it. From farm runoff, my dad said.

Nate yelled, "Go! Go! Go!"

Sydney skidded down the steep bank—the closest thing to a hill around here—fighting with her handlebars as she tried to keep control through the mud. Her bike sent up a big spray as it hit the shallow water, and she shrieked. I followed her down and mud splattered all the way up to my face, and then the splash of water soaked my shirt. The day was the kind of hot that felt like it was sitting on you. The water wasn’t much cooler, but at least it was wet. I didn’t even think about itching.

As we hauled our bikes up to go again, Sydney said, "I can’t believe school starts next week."

"Me neither," I said.

"At least football is starting up," Nate said. He chucked a clump of mud at me, but it went wide and splattered on Sydney’s arm instead. The handful of mud I threw at Nate missed him completely.

Sydney laughed. "You guys will never play ball with arms like that."

"Watch me," Nate said, and he hit my leg on his next throw.

It had been a good summer.

Sydney lived down the street from me and we’d been friends since I first moved to Ohio. We hung out a lot—riding bikes on the riverbank, playing video games and then cards on the front porch when her parents kicked us out of the house, striking at her brothers with water balloons when they were doing yard work. Usually it was just the two of us. Then Nate started showing up with his bike at the river. And sometimes when I was hanging out with Nate, we hung out with the other guys from school.

Nate popped up the front wheel of his bike, tipping his head back to look at the sky, which was as dark as a bruise. "Let’s go get slushies before it rains."

At the gas station, we tracked in mud. "We’re swamp creatures," Sydney said. She pushed back her hair with her muddy arm. It was coming out of her braid and fuzzed all around her face.

There weren’t any cars at the gas pumps. The day the tornado came through was also the first day of the Buckeye football preseason and the store was empty.

"Shoot," Sydney said, heading to the counter. "The slushie machine is broken." She looked at the guy at the cash register. "For real? That’s all I want. That’s all I want in the whole world. A slushie."

"There’s ice cream in the back freezer."

"I only do the slushies. Thanks anyway."

I asked the guy if there had been any weather alerts, but he said he’d only been listening to the game. "Buckeyes up by fourteen already," he told us. That’s how it is in Ohio. Everybody is always talking Ohio State University football.

"It’s going to be a blowout," Nate said, cracking his knuckles, and I guess Nate knew the guy because they started talking about the game and then Nate’s grandparents.

"Excuse me," I said, butting in, "but are you sure there isn’t even a watch out? Or a thunderstorm warning?"

All spring there had been tornadoes, the kind that busted out of the sky in the middle of the night. Invisible demons in the dark, roaring as they came to eat you, your house, your town. It got so bad everywhere that my grandmother, who lived in another state, followed our weather. Sometimes she called us before our town’s tornado sirens even went off. She called if it was the middle of the night. The weather was so bad that no one minded. The wail of tornado sirens is hard to hear when you’re inside a house, asleep, with the air conditioner running.

"Maybe," the guy said. "Sorry about the slushies."

Nate said, "We can find something at my grandmother’s."

We rode our bikes farther down the empty roads to Nate’s grandmother’s storage units—the Storage-U—and she had Popsicles in the freezer in her office. They were the kind in plastic tubes that you freeze at home. Sydney read the ingredients on the box. Big blue clouds rolled in, fat and heavy.

It felt like before.

We ate fast.

The Storage-U was three long lines of cinder block buildings with red metal doors and three long gravel driveways. The office was a trailer near the road. Nate’s grandmother was working inside. After a while, she banged on the window and waved us away, and I shoved the empty Popsicle wrapper into my pocket and climbed on my bike.

"Go Bucks!" Nate, his teeth still around the plastic tube, peeled off toward his house with a wave, but I lived farther on, and Sydney a block beyond me. It was hot and soupy, but the wind that pushed in was cold.

Once Sydney and I made it to our street, it took us three minutes to get to my house. I knew that because the tornado sirens started to wail, and they wail solid for three minutes before turning off and then starting up again.

The sirens are loud. Piercing. The sound goes right through your body and down into your soul and rattles your earwax.

My mother stood out on the steps of our front porch. My mom is neat and orderly, but right then she looked wild, with the wind blowing her hair so it covered her face. She yelled into the phone. "They’re here! She’s here. I’ve got them. I’ll get her into our basement."

She stopped us from hauling our bikes up onto the front porch and we left them clattering down to the sidewalk behind us. We kept on our helmets and wet shoes. In the living room, the Buckeyes played silently in a little rectangle in the corner of the television. The rest of the picture was nothing but weather guys. Let me tell you this: no one interrupts the Buckeyes. If the Buckeyes are silent, it can only be a matter of life or death. "If you live in the warning box on the map," the weather guy said, "you need to take shelter now."

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