Saturday, August 11, 2007

The House of the Scorpion - Review

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.


Well, that was interesting.

This YA science fiction novel, which won the Newbery Honor, among others, introduces the idea of cloning humans simply for the sake of organ harvesting. Normally, after being birthed by a cow, these clones are given a shot which destroys their mind and essentially turns them into zombie organ donors. But one clone isn't given the shot and he grows up to be Matteo "Matt" Alacran, the double of a powerful drug lord that controls the fictional land mass called Opium. Matt grows up hidden from the world; he lives with a cook named Celia, learning what he can of the outside from books and television, until a group of kids show up and, eager to meet people, he jumps through a glass window. At that moment, everything changes.

I found The House of the Scorpion to be far more creepy than I expected. Matt is viewed by many as nothing more than an animal, no better or worse than a dog, and he's treated cruelly for it. Forced to live alone in a dark cell for nearly six months, Matt learns how to go to the bathroom like a chicken might on a bed of straw. Finally, he's "rescued" by the other Matteo Alacran, a much much older man known by his servants as El Patrón. Matt's then given a real bedroom and a tutor of sorts: Tam Lin. This muscular man with a dark past teaches Matt about eejits, which are humans with a computer chip implanted into their brains to turn them into mindless slaves. El Patron employs many of these on the Farm, and without the commands of a non-eejit they'll just die from starvation or dehydration.

Eventually, Matt learns of the true reason he's being kept around. Not for his musical prowess or his innocent charm, but for his heart. And liver and kidneys and whatever else El Patrón might need in the future. With the help of some friends, he plans to escape.

I was quite worried for Matt for much of the book. He's a clueless protagonist, always seeming to find himself in trouble or before new enemies left and right. One minute you think he's safe, and the next he isn't. Still, he's very likable (much more than the real Matteo Alacran is, at least), and yet nothing works out all peachy-keen. Dark happenings and sinuous beings all around him, Matt stands up for those that he cares about even if they don't care back. He's a reluctantly admirable hero, one that many readers can relate to (especially if those readers are, themselves, clones).

A very powerful and suspenseful read that questions the ethical value of cloning, the importance of family and friendship, and the ultimate point of living. The House of the Scorpion is both gripping and well-written, and definitely a wise choice for those looking for something new and different to try after they've finished reading that horrible epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Highly recommended.


D. Abbamondi said...

Like I said, one of the most original books I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

Although I haven't read this one, I've read Sea of Trolls & A Girl Named Disaster. Both are very, very different from each other and very, very excellent reading.

Paul Abbamondi said...

Thanks for the tip, Trina! I'll definitely be reading more of Farmer's work in the future. Probably go with Sea of Trolls first.