The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)

13376This chilling recent classic gives the contemplative reader a lot to think about.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:  380 (for ISBN 9780689852237)

Genre(s) and keywords: science fiction, dystopian, award winner, diverse

Tone/Style: bleak, atmospheric

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: clones, drugs, undocumented immigrants

Themes: purpose in life, family, science, power, ethics

Summary: Between the U.S.A. and Aztlán (once called Mexico) lies a strip of land, known as Opium, the name of its chief product.  It is ruled by a 146-year-old drug lord known as El Patrón.  His fields are tilled by illegal immigrants, called “eejits,” who have computer chips implanted in their brains so that they can be kept in slavery.  Matt, a boy who is confined in a cottage on El Patrón estate, manages to break out, only to find himself treated like an animal.  Eventually he learns why.  The tattoo on his foot, “Property of Alacrán Estates,” means that he is a clone of El Patrón–and that he is being raised to provide spare body parts for his original.  With the aid of Tam Lin, his bodyguard, Matt escapes from Opium but that is not the end of his troubles.  He is imprisoned in a brutal labor camp for orphaned boys in Aztlán and leads a rebellion to rescue not only himself, but the other “Lost Boys.”(Source)

Who will like this book?:  Give this to contemplative readers who are ready to have their minds blown. It asks some big questions, and will be best appreciated by those ready to give it some serious thought. A taste for the morbid doesn’t hurt, either.

Who won’t like this book?: There are situations and imagery in this book that some readers may find disturbing, such as El Patrón‘s enslavement of the eejits and the parts about Matt being birthed from a cow.  Though a lot happens in this book, it is mostly cerebral, so casual or reluctant readers and those who prefer physical action may lose interest.

Other comments: I’ve booktalked this a few times, but I don’t feel I’ve quite managed to capture it properly in my talks.  This seems to find its way into the hands of the right readers on its own, rather than with my help.

Sequel(s): The Lord of Opium (2013)

Readalikes: Unwind by Neal Shusterman, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld are other dystopians dealing with morally questionable medical procedures. The younger set should try Masterminds by Gordon Korman, which also involves kids cloned from evil people.

-Kylie Peters

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