www.whyville.net Jul 28, 2013 Weekly Issue

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Book Review: The House of the Scorpion

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"In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty six droplets of life so tiny Eduardo could see them only under a microscope."

And from these droplets of life a certain Matteo Alacran is made, another Matteo Alacran cloned from the original El Patron, the incredibly old and wealthy ruler of Opium, a strip of land between the U.S. and Mexico, now called Aztlan. This El Patron clone, Matt, is the main character of "The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer.

The book starts with a six year old Matt, locked away in Celia's house. Celia is the cook for the Big House where El Patron and his family live. Matt is incredibly lonely, having no contacts but Celia and the occasional doctor. One day Matt is exposed to the outer world through a twist of events and is brought to society.

"The days passed with agonizing slowness, followed by nights of misery."

Months later, reunited with Celia, he is met by El Patron, whom he feels a connection to. His new life is different, both wonderful and strange, whether encountering the strange eejits slavering in the opium fields who obey the foreman's every order, or exploring the land. Eejits are the essentially mindless people or animals, usually caught by the Farm Patrol, with computer chips implanted in their brains, enabling them to do a certain task again and again.

"Wonderful. I was going bonkers counting beads. The poor thing--it was all she knew how to do."

Matt has many adventures through the Big House in the following years, crossing paths with the inhabitants of the Big House. Despite his adventures and privileged life under the care of El Patron, Matt struggles with the idea of being a clone, and if he is truly an actual person or just a soulless copy -- as Maria says, "You're not a dog. You're so much, much more." The ending of the book is shocking, and I obviously can't give it away.

I'd rate this book five out of five, as it is one of the finest sci-fi books I've ever read. "The House of the Scorpion" is different from many other novels set in the future, as instead of concerning evil governments or aliens, it uses more realistic plot elements, such as the whole conflict with the US, Mexico/Aztlan, and the drug farms/Opium. The characters were memorable and lifelike, the plot was thrilling, and the writing was captivating.

Overall, I strongly recommend "The House of the Scorpion".


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