Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Themes: Cloning, freedom, growing up, friendship, sacrifice, drugs, family, humanity
Plot: Matteo Alarcran 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 United 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.
My Thoughts: The House of the Scorpion is a long book for the YA section, but that didn't stop me from reading it in one sitting. The story is compelling, and the main character is intriguing-perhaps because Matt is so conflicted and oftentimes quite malicious despite his "good-guy-protagonist" status. I picked this book up from my mother, who doesn't often read YA, but she also really enjoyed it.
Issues of defining humanity, despite and because of how "inhumane" people can be, is the central driving force behind this novel. Matt's struggle to determine his own worth and position not only within the eccentric (to put it mildly) Alacran family, the country of Opium, and the grand scheme of things is played out through his adventures and trials from age six to age fourteen. His childhood is sheltered and full of love until he is drawn to the Alacran Estate, where is pampered and loathed by the family there as he eventually discovers the reason for his creation and education.
This book has adventure, friendship, trials, and twists that are sure to entertain most readers. The philosophical questions being posed may not be as obvious as it seems from this description-but if it was it would probably make boring reading. While some characterizations remained flat or erratic (or both in the case of the main love interest) Matt, his foster mother, and guardian all receive tender and thorough characterizations and have realized personalities and back-stories. Likewise, the plot and world-building are fun and well-explored, and are completely believable in almost every respect. I felt that the last segment of the book was largely unnecessary, but I still enjoyed The House of the Scorpion overall.
Recommendation: The House of the Scorpion has action, friendship, drama, and love aimed at a thoughtful and literate YA audience. The book raises questions on humanity and technology that may interest readers while still remaining a solid story with well-developed characters and environments. I would recommend this book to just about anyone.
Similar Reads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau*
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004.
*I haven't read this series, but it seems similar as far as themes and readership