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The House of the Scorpion Paperback – May 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by "eejits," humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran's doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family's mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron's favorite. Gradually he realizes the fate that is in store for him, and with the help of Tam Lin, his bluff and kind Scottish bodyguard, he escapes to Aztlan. There he and other "lost children" are trapped in a more subtle kind of slavery before Matt can return to Opium to take his rightful place and transform his country.

Nancy Farmer, a two-time Newbery honoree, surpasses even her marvelous novel, The Ear, The Eye and the Arm in the breathless action and fascinating characters of The House of the Scorpion. Readers will be reminded of Orson Scott Card's Ender in Matt's persistence and courage in the face of a world that intends to use him for its own purposes, and of Louis Sachar's Holes in the camaraderie of imprisoned boys and the layers of meaning embedded in this irresistibly compelling story. (Ages 12 and older) --Patty Campbell --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Farmer's (A Girl Named Disaster; The Ear, the Eye and the Arm) novel may be futuristic, but it hits close to home, raising questions of what it means to be human, what is the value of life, and what are the responsibilities of a society. Readers will be hooked from the first page, in which a scientist brings to life one of 36 tiny cells, frozen more than 100 years ago. The result is the protagonist at the novel's center, Matt a clone of El Patron, a powerful drug lord, born Matteo Alacr n to a poor family in a small village in Mexico. El Patro n is ruler of Opium, a country that lies between the United States and Aztl n, formerly Mexico; its vast poppy fields are tended by eejits, human beings who attempted to flee Aztl n, programmed by a computer chip implanted in their brains. With smooth pacing that steadily gathers momentum, Farmer traces Matt's growing awareness of what being a clone of one of the most powerful and feared men on earth entails. Through the kindness of the only two adults who treat Matt like a human Celia, the cook and Matt's guardian in early childhood, and Tam Lin, El Patron's bodyguard Matt experiences firsthand the evils at work in Opium, and the corruptive power of greed ("When he was young, he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other... most of his branches are twisted," Tam Lin tells Matt). The author strikes a masterful balance between Matt's idealism and his intelligence. The novel's close may be rushed, and Tam Lin's fate may be confusing to readers, but Farmer grippingly demonstrates that there are no easy answers. The questions she raises will haunt readers long after the final page. Ages 11-14.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 11 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 660L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689852231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689852237
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (615 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor Books: The Ear the Eye and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which, in 2002, also won the National Book Award. Other books include Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, the Trolls trilogy, three picture books for young children and an adult novel, A New Year's Tale. Nancy Farmer grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border and lives with her family in Arizona.

The Lord of Opium, sequel to The House of the Scorpion, will be published in Fall 2013.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Capehart VINE VOICE on March 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
You will find this in the YA or the Juvenile section but don't let that keep you from reading it. If I could give it 10 stars I would. This National Book Award Winner is one of the best near future sci-fi thriller novels written in the past few years. Early in the novel, Matt discovers he is a clone in a future where clones are thought of as little more than animals. Matt is the clone of a very powerful drug lord, and because of this, he enjoys a much more comfortable life than most. Matt learns a lot in the course of the novel...perhaps the most frightening of these is that there are many reasons for cloning one's self. I hear a lot of people review books and say things like "a page turner" and "you won't want to put it down." I read a lot and usually don't have too much trouble putting a book down if something else catches my eye or if it's late at night. This one kept me up until three a.m. This "Newbery Honor" is head and shoulders above the winner of the medal for 2003. (Crispin isn't even in the same league as this book). This is also head and shoulders above most SF books of 2003! Give it a look you won't be sorry!
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65 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Pablo Hauszler on January 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I love cooking, in a real serious aficionado kind of way. A few months ago, I became obsessed with sandwiches and I bought this book . At first when I got it, I started reading it and became a little "are you out of your mind" but then decided to give it a chance. I made the Fried oyster sandwiches, the monte cristo, the remoulade sauce and bagna cauda (relatively easy recipes) and WOW, I was hooked. I guess my problem at first was that I supposed I was buying a Subway or Quizons do it at home book but was I wrong. These sandwiches are top of the notch gourmet food for a refined and balanced eating experience. Atention to detail is essential and most of the recipes require a lot of pre preparation beforehand for the final assembly (culprit to my initial drawback). The desserts are dazzling (I tried the Not Nutterbutter cookies and the Blums Crunch cake) and I hold this book now amongst my most treasured ones. If you love fine food, don't mind slaving a little for a worth while dazzling finale, buy this book, it will change your outlook on sandwiches forever.........
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on November 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
While many of the recipes in this book are just too elaborate for me to try, I still enjoyed reading them. And the photos were works of art in themselves. As the book description says, these are recipes for gourmet meals that just happen to be served on bread!
The author divides the sandwich recipes into open-faced, closed face, sort-of sandwiches, tea sandwiches, and several other categories.
I am especially interested in trying the Pan Bagna, the Peppered Beef with Sauteed Greens and Caper Onion Mayonnaise, and the sandwich made with asparagus, poached eggs, prosciutto and fontina cheese.
The Grilled Autostrada sandwich was yummy (four cured meats, peppers and provolone) as were several of the grilled sandwiches.
The book also contains interesting food background information and some useful tips for adapting the recipes.
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
May I gush for a moment about Nancy Farmer? Please bow, one and all, for the premiere sci-fi children's author of the day. The successor, to my mind, of Madeline L'Engle with a hint of Mildred Taylor for flair. She won me over initially with her extraordinary "The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm" and reeled me in completely with "House of the Scorpion". In this, her latest offering, the moral implications of cloning and the drug wars are brought to terrifying extremes. And yet who knew that organ farming could be so readable? The main character, Matteo, is followed from his very conception to the age of fourteen. The book does not, surprisingly, dwell too closely on the nature of existence and Matteo's own appearance on the globe. Instead, it chooses to simply lay out a world in which the drug lords of South America have created their own land and laws. The book abounds with interesting characters and ideas. Though I found it odd that member of the Alacran clan would openly despise their leader's clone before him, there are few missteps in this powerful novel. That it was a Newberry Honor Book impresses me especially. Some parents will undoubtedly find the depictions of violence that spot this book (and they do certainly crop up at regular intervals) too much for younger children, just as older kids will adore the gorier details. Like "The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm", this is a wordy tale. It is 380 pages in length and it feels it. And truthfully, the first false climax, when Matt escapes the land of Opium, seems as if it should be the end of the book, only to open up into a whole new story. I would be very interested to know if any teachers have read this book to their students. Just the same, consider this book highly recommended and Ms. Farmer a master of wordplay.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on October 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is YA fiction at its best: an epic story about life-changing events and human strength, appropriate for middle schoolers but totally readable for any teen or adult reader, and a book that can be enjoyed by male or female readers. The protagonist, Matteo, is male, but the story is universal and not to be missed by any literature fan. This is one of those books that can change a middle schooler from a non-reader to a reader.

The story unfolds gradually, as we learn about Matt and his life as a clone, a second-class citizen, growing up in the sprawling mansion of rich and powerful feudal drug lord El Patron, the man from whose DNA Matt was cloned. Matt is unsure of his place in the world, and he needs to learn about the inner workings of the household and its members, the robot-like people who farm opium, the politics of the land El Patron rules between the US and Mexico, as well as Matt's own purpose in life (why did El Patron make a clone? Is Matt his ultimate heir or is there a darker purpose?). The reader is along for Matt's journey of self-discovery, as he figures out who to trust and where the real truth lies. Along the way, Matt finds love as well as boyhood friendship and bonding.

There's an important lesson in here about the fate of those who grow up inside cults: When Matt figures out what is right and wrong in the world, will he be able to make the right choice and reject the powerful but evil man who brought him into this world? What if your hero is a kind man to you, but reviled by the rest of the world?

Another interesting aspect of the story is the way the future echoes the past.
Read more ›
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