Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer



Raised in secret in the country of Opium (a narrow strip of land between the US and Mexico), Matt discovers he’s a clone of El Patron, the leader of the poppy field empire.  Once established in the house, Matt is treated with disgust by everyone but El Patron and a few lone kind souls. As he navigates the hostile territory, Matt slowly comes to understand the terrible truth about his fate and that escape is his only chance for survival.

I was expecting great things from this awards magnet (National Book Award winner, Printz winner, Newberry Honor book), not only because of its literary pedigree, but also because I am fascinated by clone stories (an aside: I may be the only person who enjoyed the 2005 film THE ISLAND).



And I’m happy to report that my expectations were met, even exceeded, because I loved this novel.  Matt is such a well-rounded, complex character – he reacts like a normal child/teen (his story progresses in a linear fashion from birth to age 14) in that he sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him, which leads to some pretty awful consequences.

I enjoyed the way we slowly become more aware of Opium’s decidedly dystopian landscape through Matt’s eyes.  The plight of the poppy field workers and the intrigue involving MacGregor (a political ally of El Patron) are especially disturbing. Farmer brings up a lot of ethical issues in her fast-moving, utterly compelling plot that are ripe for discussion.

In addition to sympathizing for Matt, I also really loved the characters of Celia (the maid who raises Matt), Maria (Matt’s only friend) and especially Tam Lin (El Patron’s rough bodyguard).

I can’t recommend THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION highly enough.  It’s a new favorite, and well deserving of the coveted 5 Zombie Chicken rating.



Find out more about this 2002 novel at the author’s website.

Song for the Ultimate Dystopian Playlist: Forever Young by Youth Group. Sample lyric: “Do you really want to live forever?”

19 comments:

Beth F said...

I never saw The Island, so I can't comment on that.

I like good characters though. I'm not sure if I've read a clone book.

spajonas said...

Ha! I loved "The Island"! It had such a fun premise despite it being a Michael Bay movie. Sort of a hyped-up, crazy version of "Never Let Me Go."

Anyway, cloning is always a fun premise in a book. I was just reminded of this recently while reading "Imperial Earth" by Arthur C. Clarke.

Sarah Laurence said...

Great review! My teenaged son and I absolutely loved House of Scorpion too. It's a book I've recommended to many others.

Em said...

This is the second time in two days that someone (whose opinions I trust on bookish matters) has recommended this book (my blog partner Nora is the other someone). Now if I can only figure out a way to fit it into my tight TBR queue...

Stephanie said...

Sounds like this one is worth putting on the TBR list, I might have to give it a try!

Zibilee said...

This is one of my son's favorite books, and when I worked a book sale last fall, I recommended it left and right. It sounds like it's just about perfect, so I need to hop along to my son's room and see if I can borrow his copy. I am glad you loved it so!

JessiKay89 said...

This is one of my very favorite dystopian novels! I remember my heart just wrenching for Matt as I read. Great review :)

JessiKay89 said...

This is one of my very favorite dystopian novels! I remember my heart just wrenching for Matt as I read. Great review :)

V. Rossi said...

Oh, wow. Must buy this one!

bermudaonion said...

Holy cow, that won every award out there! Sounds like I need to look for it.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, man, I loved the concept behind The Island (sort of fell hopelessly flat for me as a movie) but I haven’t found anything recently that has called to me as a good clone dystopian story. Looks like this is heading my way, soon! And good lord I can’t even comment on the cover because there are so many awards. So many critics can’t be wrong, right?

Elizabeth Briggs said...

I loved The Island! I'll have to check this book out.

Alyce said...

I've had this one in my immediate TBR pile next to my bed for over a year. I so need to make time to read this book because I just know I'm going to love it. If I didn't already have twenty books to read I'd pick it up right now...I'll just have to find more reading time. :)

Shelley said...

This is the book that introduced me to Nancy Farmer, and I've gone on to read many of her other books, which are just as great.

Kailana said...

This was one of my favourite books last year. I am glad I read it!

Beth S. said...

I've been meaning to read this one for a while now given the ridiculous amount of award medals on the cover. Teachers generally have an obligation to read books with lots of hardware. :)

Biblibio said...

The only aspect of The House of the Scorpion that I didn't like (despite overall very much liking the book) is the romance and the way it progressed - reading the book as a kid about the same age as Matt, the story felt unrealistic and weird. Other than that, wonderful book... definitely worth every award and accolade!

Lynsey Newton said...

Okay I had to comment and say that I really enjoyed The Island too so there's at least one more person!

Miss Lauren said...

You are so not the only one who likes the movie The Island!! :) I had no idea there was a book though. I'm definitely going to have to pick this one up.