Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review of The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer
5 Scribbles
Where has this book been all my life? I hardly feel qualified to review it. Released in 2004, and winning the National Book Award, The Printz Award, the Locus Award, and a Newberry Honor Award ( and many, many others that we have no room to list here) the accolades speak for themselves, but if you want my two cents worth, here it is!

The geography is a little different in Matteo’s world. Mexico is now Aztlán, the United States is still the United States, but carved out in the middle is a new country named Opium. Opium is the brain child of a man called "El Patron," the dictator of Opium who now controls the growth and export of opium to its neighbors. Geography isn’t the only thing different in this future—Matt is not a regular boy, he’s a clone. Clones are no better than animals in this world, and because of this, once he is discovered, Matt is hated and abused by nearly all who meet him with the exception of El Patron, who dotes on Matt and protects him at the huge Alacrán mansion. What Matt doesn’t know is that El Patron, who is 140+ years old, has a hidden motive for his actions. And it doesn’t take long for Matt to realize that his life is no more valuable to El Patron than the brain-dead "eejits" who harvest the poppies. Farmer’s dystopian novel, ahead of the curve of so many of the sci-fi dystopian works now flooding the market, is written in such simple prose that younger and older readers will enjoy it. Her incorporation of themes that are still timely eight years after publication—medical ethics, immigration, homelessness, and government— are seamlessly written into the story in a way that forces the reader to understand how current technologies, while useful in solving many problems, may not be ethical in practice. Best of all are her amazingly drawn characters. Celia, Matt’s beloved nanny and surrogate mother, comes to life with her pet names, sweet whispers of affection, and fattening comfort food. No reader will leave this book without wishing Celia would wrap them in her arms and murmur, "mijo," or "mi vida." Tough, but wise and fair, Tam Lin is another character whose Irish lilt jumps off the page, and makes the reader stand up straighter. Best of all, the villains in the book are not exaggerated, their behavior is chilling, but not unbelievable in the world of the future or the world today. The action in the book is non-stop and the conclusion is bittersweet. My only disappointment is that Farmer is only now writing another installment.

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