The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer
Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?
Review: You know that you’re too old for YA when you don’t say “What a great adventure” while reading a book. Instead, you want to reach through the pages and pull the child characters to safety. This book definitely awakened some protective-parent instinct in me that I didn’t know I possessed.
Matteo Alacrán is the clone of a drug lord. As a child, he is kept in a chicken coop and treated like livestock. He’s destined to be harvested for parts when the elderly drug lord’s organs start giving out. If Matt wants to survive, he has to escape from the drug lord’s estate and cross the border to a country that used to be Mexico.
This is one of the most unique dystopias I’ve read in a long time. There are very few “good guys.” The characters are drug lords, terrorists, bullies, murderers, and generally horrible people. I also really like the setting. The characters have Latin American ancestry, and the story is set in what used to be rural Mexico. I’ve never seen that setting in a dystopia before.
Matt is my favorite part of the book. He’s the one who woke up my parent instincts. It was hard to see a young child being treated like livestock. The story takes place over several years, so the reader gets to see Matt grow from a child to a fourteen-year-old. I like Matt’s honesty and the bond that he has with his caretakers. Even though he’s a clone who was grown inside a cow, he has wonderful “parents” who he loves. The reader can really feel that love.
The themes of this book are intriguing. First, there’s the whole nature vs nurture thing. Matt wants to be a good person, but he’s the clone of an evil man, and he’s often treated like an animal. There’s a constant battle between Matt’s instincts and his desires.
The book is also about what it means to be human. In this dystopian world, some countries consider Matt a human and others consider him an animal. Matt isn’t sure what he should think about himself. Survival is difficult no matter where he goes.
I did have a few problems with the book. There are a lot of characters. I had to keep checking the family trees to remember why all of these people are important. The story is also slow in places, and I found my attention wandering. Finally, I didn’t like the chunk of the story that talks about socialism. This book confronts so many issues. The socialism feels like one issue too many. The story is complicated enough without it, and it isn’t developed as well as the other issues.
These problems are pretty easy for me to overlook. I adored this book. It made me think, and it reminded me why I fell in love with the dystopian genre years ago. It deserves the awards that are plastered all over the cover. I need the sequel immediately.