The House of the Scorpion
The House of the Scorpion
Cover illustration: Russell Gordon
Atheneum Books, 2002; audio: Recorded Books
Between the U.S.A. and Aztlán (once called Mexico) lies a strip of land, known as Opium, the name of its chief product. It is ruled by a 146-year-old drug lord known as El Patrón. His fields are tilled by illegal immigrants, called "eejits," who have computer chips implanted in their brains so that they can be kept in slavery. Matt, a boy who is confined in a cottage on El Patrón estate, manages to break out, only to find himself treated like an animal. Eventually he learns why. The tattoo on his foot, "Property of Alacrán Estates," means that he is a clone of El Patrón--and that he is being raised to provide spare body parts for his original. With the aid of Tam Lin, his bodyguard, Matt escapes from Opium but that is not the end of his troubles. He is imprisoned in a brutal labor camp for orphaned boys in Aztlán and leads a rebellion to rescue not only himself, but the other "Lost Boys."
View answers to questions I am often asked about this book, a guide for reading and an excerpt.
National Book Award, 2002, Newbery Honor, 2003, Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, 2003, Buxtehuder Bulle, 2003 (Germany), ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, IRA Young Adults' Choices,Sequoyah Young Adult Award, Volunteer State Award, 2006, Arizona Young Readers Teen Award, 2005, South Carolina Junior Readers Award, 2005-2006, Rhode Island Teen Book Award nominee, 2004, Young Hoosier Book Award, 2006, Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2005, Senior Young Readers' Choice Award, Pacific Northwest Library Association, 2005, Bay Area Book Reviewers’ Association Award for Children’s Literature
"In the not-so-distant future, workers are forced to tend heroin poppy fields. Cloned humans are raised for their organs to prolong the lives of the rich and powerful.
In her new National Book Award-winning The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer sets her dystopian vision on a strip of land called Opium, between Mexico and the USA. Controlled by an iron-fisted drug lord, Opium may be a fictitious location, but it feels disturbingly real.
Farmer's latest young-adult novel unflinchingly tackles the war on drugs and mistreatment of migrant labors. Like her previous books, the Newbery Honor-winning A Girl Named Disaster, about a Shona tribal girl escaping an arranged marriage, and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, about Zimbabwe in 2194, Scorpion should spark discussion. This is mind-expanding fiction for older teens that also works for adults — think Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Orwell's 1984 or Nevil Shute's On the Beach.
Opium is all that young Matt Alacran knows. Raised in a house amid the poppy fields, he doesn't realize he's a clone until he breaks out of isolation to play with neighboring children. After an injury reveals a telltale tattoo on his heel, the Alacran and allied Mendoza families abuse and ignore him.
Unlike some science fiction, Scorpion relies on realistic, sympathetic characters dealing with a different reality, rather than high-tech droid wars or rampaging aliens. Young Matt, in search of a father figure, remains in deep denial that he will eventually be killed for his organs. He learns piano and math, soaks up survival skills from the gruff but caring Tam Lin and tries to win a young woman's heart. All the while, he's trying to make everyone see him as more than a clone.
Scorpion is a cautionary tale that seeps into your mind and settles there. When reading about Colombia ceding huge swaths of land to the narco-backed rebels, Opium will reappear in your mind's eye. When an Italian doctor vows to clone humans, Matt's fears will resurface. Scorpion serves as a reminder of a disturbing future."-- Ayesha Court, USA Today
*"Farmer's novel may be futuristic, but it hits close to home, raising questions of what it means to be human, what is the value of life, and what are the responsibilities of a society. Readers will be hooked from the first page."--Publishers' Weekly, starred review
*"...Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons' hoards, and killing fields, Matt's story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans."--Kirkus Reviews, pointer review
[A] solid modern classic."--U.S. News & World Report.
*"[A] remarkable coming of age story...."--Booklist, starred review.