The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is not a new teen book but I do feel like it has gotten a little lost and perhaps is on the way to soon be forgotten. This book is a gem I discovered several years after publication, just perusing the book stacks for a good read. It was a 2002 National Book Award winner, and additionally won honors from both the Newbery Medal and Michael L. Printz Awards in 2003.
This is a nice change of pace if you feel like you’re stuck in a teen reading rut. It is not formulaic, which I have been finding too much of my teen reading is falling into one of several basic plots – and it is getting old. This is a nice way to shake thing up for the spring if you, too, feel like you keep reading the same book over and over.
The story takes place in the not too distant future in Mexico – on the beautiful hacienda with a poppy plantation, owned by El Patron, Mexico’s oldest, and most dangerous, drug lord. El Patron is so old, no one can say his exact age, but he is still around to see his great-great grandchildren. Even El Patron’s grandson, El Viejo, is described as “a very old man.” This raises the question; how has El Patron been able to live for so long?
Matt has grown up on El Patron’s vast estate his whole life. He’s not a grandchild or child of anyone there, nor a worker. Matt is El Patron’s clone, and is raised like a second class citizen, only getting care and pity from others because they were instructed to do so by El Patron.
Though Matt is family to El Patron, he is never treated as such. Never included in the family affairs, and regarded as almost a “pet” to their old patriarch. The family is dysfunctional, spiteful, power hungry, and rather unloving - even to their own family. This means that though Matt is almost always surrounded by the family, servants, and field workers he is nearly invisible to them. This leaves Matt alone with just himself for most of the time.
Not having contact with anyone outside of the poppy plantation and house, Matt doesn’t see his life as so strange. Up until his teen years he never really considered why El Patron would need a clone. Surely it is just to relive his childhood through him? El Patron loves Matt too much to ever hurt him – or does he?
This was a book I could not put down! The story was captivating, and the writing was stellar! I would recommend this young adult title for middle school readers and up.
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