Written by Lio Rowan (Features Writer)
The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian science fiction book written by Nancy Farmer. The book won the National book award for young people’s literature when it was released in 2002, and the John Newbery medal in 2003. Nancy Farmer started by writing children’s books, many of which were inclusive and versatile. The House of the Scorpion and its sequel, Lord of Opium are by far her most recognized books, touching the hearts and minds of all of her readers.
The house of scorpion follows Matt Alacrán, who has spent his youth hidden away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as less than animal by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a terrifying adventure in a land called Opium, ruled by El Patrón, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by “eejits,” docile farmworkers controlled by brain implants. Matt struggles in this world torn down. We watch him grow and change as he learns the truth about himself and the world around him. The book follows many themes, first-time readers will see equality as the main theme, a very pressing matter in the sequel. Avid readers can pick up on the hidden themes of found family, and abuse. Matt’s small trusted family follows him as long as they can, helping him escape death and even find hidden truths. El patron, his father-ish figure, is an evil, corrupt man. He won’t hesitate to kill a few thousand bystanders to get to his goals. Throughout the book we see Matt struggling to come to terms with his lineage and his nature. He feels the patron in his head, calling him to perform evil acts. This struggle is fascinating, and excellently written by Farmer.
The House of the Scorpion is a thought-provoking novel, presenting issues like human cloning, the value of human life, the importance of responsibility and friendship, and the question of how to make social structures work for all the people of a society. Farmer uses a style of writing that does not explain too much too early, but for those details that are difficult to understand, they get repeated many times throughout the book. For example, the story of how El Patrón’s siblings perished, is told and retold. The story reveals the condition of poverty endured by his family, his town, his people, and how desperately powerless he had been at one time. The tale is part of the legend and a defining trauma in the life of the old man. The story also reminds the reader that Matt, though he is an exact replica of El Patrón on a cellular level, his life experiences will have been completely different. The nature versus nurture debate looms in the background of this narrative.
The House of the Scorpion is a powerful book that leads its readers down a path of destruction and creation. The powerful themes and well-written characters pull you into the story. In conclusion, it’s an absolutely flawless read, personally I’d give it a 9/10.