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?”