Book: The House of the Scorpion

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Book:

The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer
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Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books

At his coming-of-age party, Matteo Alacrán asks El Patrón’s bodyguard, “How old am I?…I know I don’t have a birthday like humans, but I was born.”

“You were harvested,” Tam Lin reminds him. “You were grown in that poor cow for nine months and then you were cut out of her.”

To most people around him, Matt is not a boy, but a beast. A room full of chicken litter with roaches for friends and old chicken bones for toys is considered good enough for him. But for El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the U.S. and what was once called Mexico—Matt is a guarantee of eternal life. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself for Matt is himself. They share identical DNA.

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Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacrán, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by “eejits,” humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacrán, or El Patrón, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacrán’s doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patrón. He grows up in the family’s mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patrón’s favorite. Gradually he realizes the fate that is in store for him, and with the help of Tam Lin, his bluff and kind Scottish bodyguard, he escapes to Aztlan. There he and other “lost children” are trapped in a more subtle kind of slavery before Matt can return to Opium to take his rightful place and transform his country.

Nancy Farmer, a two-time Newbery honoree, surpasses even her marvelous novel, The Ear, The Eye and the Arm in the breathless action and fascinating characters of The House of the Scorpion. Readers will be reminded of Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Matt’s persistence and courage in the face of a world that intends to use him for its own purposes, and of Louis Sachar’s Holes in the camaraderie of imprisoned boys and the layers of meaning embedded in this irresistibly compelling story. (Ages 12 and older) —Patty Campbell

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