Saturday, December 11, 2010

The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer

Summary:  Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested.  His DNA came from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy fields lying between the Unites States and what was once called Mexico.  Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish.  Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby.  He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster--except for El Patron.  El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patron's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards.  Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive.  But escape from the Alacran Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.  (Summary from book - Image from

Mindy's Review:  The House of the Scorpion is a twisted, but brilliantly written, futuristic tale set in Opium, a strip of land between the US and Aztlan, the country formerly known as Mexico. It centers on a young boy named Matteo who discovers he is, in fact, the clone of El Patron, a sadistic drug lord and Opium’s despotic ruler. Treated first as a prisoner, then an animal, and finally an outcast prince, Matteo eventually realizes the horrifying reason for his existence. He was made to be a walking, talking, breathing, feeling, organ donor and there is nothing he can do or say to escape it. If you have ever read The Giver by Lois Lowry or watched The Island with Ewan McGregor, you will understand what I mean when I say that this book is a close cross between the two of them -- with a Hispanic flair.

This novel has won twelve awards*, most notable among them, the National Book Award, the Newberry Honor Award, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. If that isn’t enough to persuade you to read it, then maybe the fact that I devoured it will.

Nancy Farmer writes a variety of characters with remarkable ease. Matteo’s controversial creation makes him a target of hatred and suspicion for most of El Patron’s household, but his innocence and determination to survive make it easy to connect with him as a character. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with a male protagonist that pulled me so strongly into the story. In addition to a wonderful cast of supporting characters (good and evil), Farmer creates an exceptional villain, El Patron, with enough kindness to make you feel his betrayal, and a dark side that is black as pitch.

The House of the Scorpion touches on serious themes – the value of human life, the ethical implications of cloning, illegal immigration, addiction, and familial relationships. Farmer takes many of the concerns that are prevalent in today’s society and pushes them to the next level. Basically, this book is answers the question “what would happen if…?”.

My only real complaint about this book was that one of the character’s feelings seemed to swing rather abruptly with little or no explanation. It happened far too easily considering the circumstances, and I wasn’t satisfied with the author’s attempt to move the story past this obvious flaw.

When I read a book with the intention of reviewing it for this blog, I usually keep a pen and paper handy to jot down a note or two and keep track of my thoughts and impressions while reading. This time I was too engrossed to pick up a pen until the story drew to its’ unpredictable and satisfying conclusion.

Her Rating: 4.5 Stars (for a YA)     For the sensitive reader: While this book does contain darker themes of murder, mind control, drug addiction, and slavery, they are always portrayed in a negative light.  There is very little, if any, profanity (though there is some of the made-up variety).

Sum it up: A riveting, futuristic thriller with interesting characters and a great pace.

*According to Wikipedia.

Kari's Review:  Gripping from start to finish, this book has a similar feel to the Hunger Games series.  There isn't really a romance, but there are a lot of violent acts and ideas--not that the violent acts are written in grotesque detail, as they're not, but that the ideas themselves are gruesome.

It's hard to fathom, but when you think about the drug world and all its atrocities, you can't help but realize this could actually happen at some future date.  It's something that seems quite possible with all the drug trafficking that exists and the demand between countries for illegal substances.

When I finished reading, I found myself thinking of Matt, his chaotic and painful life, and considering all the ways around the obstacles he faced. I enjoyed the futuristic US and Mexico relationship and the new border between the two created by a drug empire. The idea of clones and brain tampering for making drones was also fascinating. The book has so much to discuss I think I might recommend it for my book club. It's an older YA book. I think many of my students would enjoy this by the end of 8th grade.
Her Rating: 4.5 Stars    For the sensitive reader: There is violence, not detailed, but very realistic. There is also some swearing although most of it is made up swear words (e.g. 'crotting').

Sum it up:  A controversial story, sure to make you think about what the future could hold.

Average Rating: 4.5 Stars

1 comment:

Paula -- CutieFruity said...

I really liked this one. For me, it was much like Hunger Games. If people like that, they are sure to enjoy this as well. The twists and turns and darkness are very similar, I think.


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