Katie Reads: The House of the Scorpion

One of my students likes sci-fi and I’ve been trying to think of good sci-fi books to recommend to him. My brother suggested The House of the Scorpion, which I had read in 6th grade (I remembered that it was about a clone and that it was kind of dark, but nothing else). I decided to give it a re-read before passing the name on to my student (just in case there was anything risque in it).

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Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?

I am very surprised I managed to read this in sixth grade and my only explanation is that I can’t have understood it very well (probably why I didn’t remember much about it). Even now the book had more than enough going on to keep my brain whirling.

Nancy Farmer is a very creative world-builder. This book may fall into the dystopian category, but it’s very different from other dystopian worlds I’ve read about (possibly because it came out so much earlier). It’s all very rich and detailed, and my only negative point is that I wish there were a map because it wasn’t always clear where things were supposed to be within the former US and Mexico and the new country, Opium (although this might have been done purposely).

The morality question at the center of the novel is about the ethics of cloning, and while I accurately remembered that cloning was featured, I didn’t remember that Farmer presented the issue in such a multi-faceted way. Matt struggles with his identity and sometimes edges into morally grey waters, which is something I always love seeing in characters. I think it’s so much more interesting than a character who can do no wrong.

I read some other reviews, which after mulling over, I agree with: the last chunk of the book feels a little out of place somehow. Unlike some, I liked it and think it worked as a way to bring the story full circle (especially the last few pages!!), but it does feel a little disconnected. Not sure what I would have done differently though so…

As usual, this has been a meandering review that I shall bring to a close by saying I’m planning to recommend it to my 7th grade student (he’s an advanced reader who can handle the times when the novel gets a little mature, and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already read this).

Stay magical readers!

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