The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Complex and rich, Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion grows from the family history created by drug lord, El Patron--a character mirroring the often bizarre machinations in characters spawned by Oscar Wilde or Nathanial Hawthorne.
El Patron, the most powerful man in the world, builds an empire on opium, slavery, augmented reality, and cruelty. He keeps himself alive for 148 years by harvesting organs from from clones created from his DNA.
The story follows the life of Matteo (called Matt), created from El Patron's DNA. We follow Matt's journey because unlike the other El Patron clones, his brains were kept intact. He was not drugged and operated into idiocy. He was not to be touched or harmed...yet, he was loathed by most around him.
It seems clones are akin to mongrels...not human. Dirty and without souls, many fear them and cringe when one is near. All, except for Matt, are kept away from humans...some strapped in hospitals or animal pens.
In this excerpt, we see a bit of Farmer's ability to use artful dialogue to develop character. You may not know this novel, but we know a little something of Matt, Fidelito, and Consuela in just this snippet of text:
Matt blinked away tears. "How can anyone celebrate death?"
"Because it's part of us," Consuela said softly.
"Mi abuelita said I musn't be afraid of skeletons because I carry my own around inside," said Fidelito. "She told me to feel my ribs and make friends with them."
"Your grandmother was very wise," said Consuela.
The writing is so strong in The House of the Scorpion, that novels such as Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, M.T. Anderson's Feed, and Lowry's The Giver came to my mind as I read.
The plausibility of the circumstances surrounding the novel also engaged me--I didn't have to suspend belief because so much of the tale is woven on morality. Gosh, so many opportunities exist for reflection and conversation on morality, science and nature, as well as what makes us human. I love the opportunities presented here for great discussion and most certainly clean, healthy, challenging thought.
I can imagine adolescents having many questions--often beginning with "Why did he/she..."--and I do love that about this book.
Decorated like a naval hero (National Book Award; Newberry Honor Book; Printz Honor Book; ALA Notable Children's Book; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; among others) The House of the Scorpion once passed from hand to hand in my classroom (only a few years ago). Now, with so many other choices flooding the market and our classrooms, great books sometimes find themselves lost in the boneyard.
It is up to teachers, and teachers who are great readers, to keep great contemporary literature in the
hands of adolescents. Please consider adding this to your classroom library and do a book talk on this gem to keep it alive in the hands of this generation of readers.
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