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The House of the Scorpion Paperback – May 1, 2004
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* “An inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence.” (Kirkus, starred review)
* “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story.” (Booklist, starred review)
* “Farmer's 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.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
“This is mind-expanding fiction for older teens that also works for adults—think Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Orwell's 1984 or Nevil Shute's On the Beach.” (USA Today)
“Strong, rough, exciting reading.” (Chicago Tribune)
“A story rich in twists and tangles, heroes and heroines, villages and dupes, and often dazzlingly beautiful descriptive prose.” (The Boston Globe)
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 also won the National Book Award and the Printz Honor. Other books include The Lord of Opium, The Sea of Trolls, The Land of the Silver Apples, The Islands of the Blessed, Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. She grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border and now lives with her family in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.
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I am a parent who has been going through a number of books so that when my sons are of age, I can have a reading list of suitable books for them whose content I am comfortable with. (Books written for adolescents have way too much anguish and sex in them for my [Orthodox Jewish] taste.)
This is one of those books that passes that test. (And I have to say that I was reluctant to give Nancy Farmer a second chance after her AWFUL, babbling book A Girl Named Disaster)
1. The prose is good and at the level of a reasonably intelligent adolescent;
2. The plot is gripping and the book was/ is hard to put down (I finished the whole book in two settings);
3. The character is something that would make sense to an adolescent boy;
4. There are several great topics for discussion, among them:
a. Dystopian societies
b. The Ethics of cloning/ genetic engineering/ stem cell harvesting (said topic can be pared down to an adolescents level and expanded as necessary)
c. Drug use and abuse
d. Questions about what is suffering. (p. 197: "What is suffering but knowledge of suffering?")
5. The book is also, in addition to being on par with the finest dystopian novels (1984 (Signet Classics) and The Giver (Giver Quartet)) and authors (George Orwell) was also two such novels in one. (The character went from one dystopian society to another.)
For the reason that the topics can work for a prescient adolescent, they could be also expanded and put to use for adults.
Verdict: Highly recommended.
Nancy Farmer has a beautiful way of engaging the reader from start to finish. What makes Matt's story so beautiful is that, on the surface, the reader is constantly made aware of the fact that Matt is a clone, but the lesson of human decency is never lost upon the pages. From start to finish, you too, feel like Matt. I promise that your own humanity will go through a journey, as well. You'll be forced to come to terms with the knowledge that even the most evil of all evil has known suffering, and that the kind and decent are not always exempt from wrongdoing.
I am thankful books such as this have been written. The impact of its message has touched me, and I'll always be thankful for that.
Set in a future where Mexico has given over a stretch of land that separates them from the US to the drug dealers, a land now called Opium and ruled mostly by the House of the Scorpion, the house of El Patron. Matteo has led a sheltered life in the little house in the poppy fields with his caregiver Celia. She has told him that he must always stay in the house when she is not home and not let anyone see him but one day when he was 6, heard the voices of children outside and couldn't stand it any longer so he showed himself to them. Next thing he knows, he is taken to the main house and everything changes. He finds out that he is a clone of El Patron, the head of the family, but that clones have no status and are generally despised. He is luckier than most in that he has the special favor of El Patron who eventually comes to his rescue and demands that he be given an education and treated at least civilly. It doesn't completely matter as the household, except Celia and his bodyguard Tam Lin, decide that ignoring him will do well enough although there is one son, Tom, who torments Matt as he torments everyone else and there is a cousin, Maria, who does actually want to be his friend but thinks of him as more of a pet than a person. What makes matters worse is when he learns that most clones are lobotomized upon birth as their only function is to serve as a source of organ donation for their original. That was to be Matt's fate but that was before Ceclia and Tam Lin came up with another plan for him.
While Matt is definitely the "hero", there are times as he is growing that you can see the person El Patron is now trying to take root in Matt but you can see the struggle that Celia and Tam Lin are going through to try and mold Matt into a different person than the horrible head of the family. This is his journey, to choose what kind of person he wants to be, the DNA does not have to dictate who he will be.
I hadn't even heard of this book prior to seeing this in my 11th graders English class where we are studying the Hero's journey. I really enjoyed the story and can see why it has won and been nominated for so many awards. It is well written, the world and characters are rich and complex, and the plot gripping.