Lesson plans were calling. My children were calling out "Feed me!" Yet I could not put down this book. What book could render a full-grown woman useless until she turned the last page? Award winning The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, is to blame. This Young Adult science fiction thriller is captivating.
The book is set pretty much in the world as we know it with a few important differences. It is set in the future, but the man who controls the estate where the action takes place wants everything to be old-fashioned, so much of what one reads in the book is from what we know of present day life. This science fiction book finds a very realistic probability for this world: clones. The book follows the life of Matt, a well developed protagonist easy for readers to identify with. He is just like any other kid you might meet, the only difference being that he is tattooed with the statement "Property of the Alacran Estate," because he is the clone of the owner of the estate. His father is the powerful and greedy owner of a drug empire known as Opium, which lies between the United States and Azatlan, formerly known as Mexico.
Matt has a few allies and many enemies. He is despised by most people for being a clone. Clones brains are destroyed at birth (from a cow) and the rest of their bodies are used for spare body parts. It is illegal to keep a clone with its brain intact, but his father El Patron is so powerful the law is broken for him and his clone is unharmed.
Matt's friends are Celia (a maid who raises him) Tom Lin (body guard who teaches him survival skills and gives him confidence) and Maria (the girl that he loves.) His father's greed and evilness have produced heirs to the estate that are cruel and hateful to Matt, and to all of humankind for that matter. El Patron has caught refugees from Azatlan, put a chip in their brain rendering them thoughtless. They will only do the bidding of a command by someone in charge: meaning work all day and sleeping in pens like livestock at night.
Matt is aware of the evilness in this and in other activities that go on in the estate. He is still unaware that he is going to be killed for his heart. At the last moment possible he hears the truth. Celia has poisoned Matt enough to make his heart worthless for a transplant. He escapes and his quest begins. He safely crosses the border to find himself caught in a corrupt orphanage system. While there he makes friends that he is loyal to till the end, even in dire circumstances, creating a commendable hero.
In the end all is made right. Matt escapes the orphanage and finds Maria at the convent where she stays. He comes to find out that Opium has been in lock down and only El Patrons handprint will get a hovercraft (modern day transportation) into Opium to see what is happening. Matt reluctantly goes to find that the old man had a plan at death to kill everyone at his funeral with poisoned wine. All that remain are a few people, Celia and his piano teacher and a few bodyguards. Tom Lin has died. I found myself puzzled by his death; it seems he committed suicide. He knew the wine was poisoned. A review in Publishers Weekly confirmed my feelings saying this, "Tam Lin's fate may be confusing to readers, but Farmer grippingly demonstrates that there are no easy answers." In the end Matt learns that he is the rightful heir to the estate and like the hero he is plans on setting things right in Opium--good wins out over evil.
Farmer, Nancy. 2002. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-689-85222-3.
Quote from School Library Journal taken from Barnes and Noble Web site: