Book Review: The House of the Scorpion


Title: The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer

Genre: Young Adult, Sci-fi, Dystopian

Publication date: 2002

Pages: 380 (hardcover)

Source: Borrowed from library

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5


The House of the Scorpion tells the story of Matt Alcaron, the clone of 140+ years old “El Patron”, the dictator of Opium, a wide strip of land between Aztlan and the U.S. In Opium there is only one main purpose of clones and that is for organ transplants. The brains of most other clones are destroyed at birth, but Matt’s is left intact on the orders of El Patron. In the beginning, Matt is not aware of El Patron’s plans.  It is when he starts living in El Patron’s estate, much to the dismay of its inhabitants that Matt realizes that he is different .  Although Matt is educated and lives in luxury, he is seen as not human, but an animal without a soul. The only ones that care for him are Celia, El Patron’s cook, Tam Lin, and Maria.  And as he learns his purpose as a clone, he becomes terrified, and decides to run away.


I’m glad I listened to my classmate’s opinion on this book back then.  First of all it’s a dystopian novel about a future where drug lords are in charge and there are clones.  Clones who are second class citizens!  Reading that at 13 years old, I thought that cloning was so fascinating.  I didn’t have any knowledge of cloning prior to reading this because I believe a topic like that is not something that a middle schooler would really know about nor even care to discuss.  Looking back, Nancy Farmer tackled a lot of social issues, from cloning to slavery, to immigration, to drugs and by setting in a sci-fi world, she entertains her readers without lecturing them.  She says this:

“Science fiction allows you to approach a lot of social issues you can’t get to directly. If you wrote a book about how cloning is horrible, it would read like a sermon and no one would pay attention to it”….

I see what you did there, Ms. Farmer.  

So what did I really get out of this book? Imagine a situation where your life is completely out of your control.  Someone deciding things for you- what you should wear, how to talk, what to eat, who to date/marry.  That would be annoying and frustrating.  Well take that pent-up anger and frustration and multiply it a trillion times and you get what it’s like to be Matt, the protagonist in the novel.  He was created in a lab for a specific reason and as a result, he has very little, if not no control of his life. But then we might have people asking    Truthfully, just because Matt had it rough, we HAVE to care, because you don’t have to.  Who knows he could be a jackass or someone really lame. But this was not the case for me.  Matt was an endearing and smart character.  He did not sit around crying and complaining, but rather refused to accept his fate and tries a to find a solution and fight back.  He educates himself and as the story progresses he faced some tough decisions. And what really broke my heart was the moment when Matt discovers the reason for his existence, yet still tries to convince himself that El Patron cares for him, and would not waste resources educating him, if his sole purpose is to be used for his organs.     Matt is not without flaws, however, I think he was a well-written character and is a good role model- his overall personality and the way he way he handled the situation he faced. Despite that he is a fictional character and his world is a fictional future, we deal with similar things in society that he dealt with in the story: violence, poverty, prejudice, and bullying.  People in this world are experiencing these similar circumstances at the mercy of dictators, drug lords, criminals, etc…And this book really make us ask ourselves what we would do if we were faced with this kind of situation or what can we do to for those who are? As for the rating I gave it 4.5 stars because the ending left me a bit unsatisfied.  There were also moments in the book especially towards the end, where I felt was unnecessary and somewhat boring.


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