Allergies and skin conditions are no joke, and they are a reality for people all over the world. From taking medication to carrying EpiPens, ailments like these can be even more difficult to manage because they are not always visible. Though great strides are being made in combating food allergies and other chronic conditions, they nonetheless remain a constant struggle for people experiencing them.
Itch is a #ownvoices book that tells the story about a boy named Isaac. Having moved from New York to small town Ohio, he often feels like an outsider especially when the Buckeyes are playing. Not only that, but he suffers from something called idiopathic angioedima, which causes him to itch terribly and unpredictably. When he does give in and scratch, he develops hives and has to take an antihistamine to calm his skin down. So, in the way of middle schoolers, his behavior has inspired his classmates to christen him Itch forevermore. Please see my full review here.
Along with Isaac’s skin condition, two other characters in the story suffer from life-threatening food allergies and must have EpiPens at the ready, just in case. Frequent conversation about these needs takes place in the book, reminding readers just how often people with food allergies are thinking about them. No matter a reader’s experience with food allergies or other chronic conditions like those included in this book, the characters and their behavior help increase empathy toward people outside of the story, as well.
I loved the descriptive writing in this book, as many times it made me think about things in a way I had not before. One line about how the day was “the kind of hot that felt like it was sitting on you” placed me squarely in a Midwest, humid summer day. Using dialogue, narrative, and text messages, this story is engaging in its presentation and every character has a unique voice. Each of the characters in this book is navigating their own challenges in addition to just existing in middle school, and readers will connect with their struggles on several levels.
The overarching message of “get better—not bitter” is one that rings true with readers of all ages. Though characters in this book experience challenges, get bullied, and make mistakes, they have the choice of improving or not. Just as in life, getting better is not always the easy path to take, but doing so can make it feel like the sun shines a little brighter. This is a lovely and heartfelt addition to libraries for middle grade readers.
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