Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 9:00 AM
Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Published: September 1, 2002
Publisher: Atheneum Book
Series: Matteo Alacran #1
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Pages: 380
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
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“People’s souls are like gardens. You can’t turn your back on someone because his garden’s full of weeds. You have to give him water and lots of sunshine.”
― Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion

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. But for El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy field 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.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister, grasping cast of characters, including El Patrón's power-hungry family. He is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards and by the mindless slaves of Opium, brain-deadened 'eejits' who toil in the poppy fields.

Escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect. Around every turn in this vivid, futuristic adventure is a new, heart-stopping surprise. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts
Can you believe that I had never even heard of The House of the Scorpion until a few months ago? My good friend Amanda and I were showing each other our bookshelves on Skype when she came across her copy of The House of the Scorpion. She said it was one of her favorites and recommended it to me. With the three rewards on the front cover, it wasn't difficult to convince me. After finishing this book, I understand why so many people are singing its praises.

In fantasy, we find reality. Never has this been more evident than in The House of the Scorpion. Our protagonist, Matt, is the clone of El Patrón, drug lord of a country called Opium, which lies between Mexico and the US. For the first few years of his life, Matt was sheltered from the outside world, completely oblivious of the prejudice directed towards clones like himself. But he can only remain naive for so long, and he eventually witnesses how clones are discriminated against and treated like animals. Matt is only exempt from this cruelty because of El Patrón's influence. El Patrón's family cannot physically hurt Matt, but they are still repulsed by his presence, and they find ways to remind him that he is unwanted. Matt finds comfort in a servant who has raised him like her own, a bodyguard who becomes an unexpected father figure, and a friend who continues to believe in him even when he loses faith in himself.

In The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer skillfully brings to life a world built from old traditions and new discoveries. El Patrón has frozen his plantation in time, as he has tried to recreate the Mexican village he grew up in, with more charm and less poverty. But at the same time, scientific advances have changed the world significantly. Hovercrafts are used to transport guests and illegal immigrants are captured by the Farm Patrol, only to have chips implanted into their head to turn them into subservient, drooling slaves. Farmer brilliantly introduced the technological advancements of the future without losing sight of the rich Mexican culture. It was well-done, and I could tell Farmer knew her stuff.

As for the character development, I found it flawless. There are many more despicable characters than lovable in The House of the Scorpion, but the goodness of my favorite characters more than made up for the corruptness of my least favorite. Maria was such a spirited, passionate individual, and, as such, I adored her. She was always there for Matt, even when she had to defy her family's wishes. She cared for all living things, especially animals, and that compassion helped her to see past the prejudice and realize that Matt is not inferior to others because he is a clone. He lives and breathes like everyone else, and, therefore, he deserves to be loved and treated like everyone else. Celia and Tam Lin were other favorite characters, and when they looked at Matt, they saw another human instead of just a clone. It didn't matter to them whether he came from a womb or a test tube.

The House of the Scorpion asks some deep, meaningful questions that will keep you thinking long after you've put down this book. What identifies someone as human? At first, the answer seems simple, but then Matt, who considers himself no different than other children his age, is dehumanized and thrown into a cell with sawdust as his litter, like he's a farm animal. Actually, he's treated worse than an animal. He is told that he is an abomination and that he has no soul because he is a clone. While other heartless individuals, who rob humans of their free will when they implant a chip in their brain, are considered humans and to have souls. How do you differentiate? These power-hungry drug lords justify their horrific behavior by classifying "eegits" and clones as inferior and inhuman. This book touches upon many real life issues, such as child slavery, pollution, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration. After reading The House of the Scorpion, I wanted to debate some of these topics heavily because it was such a thought-provoking book.

The one problem I had with The House of the Scorpion was the ending. Actually, the whole last part of the book, after Matt's escape from the Alacrán Estate, just felt at odds with the rest of the book. For some reason, it felt like I had moved onto an entirely different book. I understand that Farmer wanted to introduce Marxism and all of its issues, but I felt like there needed to be more of a balance between these two sections of the book. And then there was that abrupt ending. All of the loose ends were neatly tied up and it was a tad bit unbelievable, since I was expecting this climatic ending after such a tense buildup.

Overall, The House of the Scorpion was still a rewarding and gripping read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would highly recommend it to any fans of intriguing dystopian books. It left me with some serious questions to mull over. Apparently, there is a sequel coming in September 2013 - The Lord of Opium. The House of the Scorpion could have easily been a standalone, but I'm curious and excited to see how Matt's story continues!


  1. This sounds really interested, just added it to my Goodreads <3
    aimes x

    1. yay! i hope you like it when you eventually read it! :D

  2. I'm so so happy you loved this one, Cort! You well know my opinion of this book, so I love that you're spreading the love. I'll definitely have to re-read and review this in preparation for the freaking sequel. (Also, I can't remember the ending that well. I'll have to see if it bothers me reading it now.)
    Such a lovely review. :)

    1. Thanks Manda! And thanks for the recommendation! I love how you call it "the freaking sequel." lol And I'm curious to see if you like it less or more now.

  3. It's a shame the ending was a bit disappointing, but I'm so glad you enjoyed the rest of the book. It's been on my TBR Shelf for ages, so I'm finally going to pick it up this summer with the sequel looking close. Great review! :)

    1. Thanks Keertana! That's probably a good idea, reading it closer to the sequel's release. I hate when there's a long break between books and I feel like I've forgotten almost everything from the earlier book. I hope you enjoy it! :D

  4. I bought this book for a classroom library that I had when I was still teaching at middle school level (8th grade) ... it captured several of the boys' attention which is a good thing, as I often feel that their interests are ignored (or at least 'dumbed down' by YA publishers. It was a really good book with threads for deep discussion just hanging out of the story all over the place!

    You've written a great book reaction post here!

    1. Thank you so much Susan!!!! It is a wonderful book for discussion, and it raised so many questions that I feel will never be answered completely but could inspire many debates. I'm glad your students enjoyed it!


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