Review: The House of the Scorpion

Review: The House of the ScorpionThe House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Series: Matteo Alacrán #1
Published by Atheneum BFYR on September 1, 2002
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

At his coming-of-age party, Matteo Alacrán asks El Patrón's bodyguard, "How old am I? ... I know I don't have a birthday like humans, but I was born."

"You were harvested," Tam Lin reminds him. "You were grown in that poor cow for nine months and then you were cut out of her."

To most people around him, Matt is not a boy, but a beast. But for El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy field lying between the U.S. and what was once called Mexico--Matt is a guarantee of eternal life. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, for Matt is himself. They share identical DNA.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister, grasping cast of characters, including El Patrón's power-hungry family. He is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards and by the mindless slaves of Opium, brain-deadened 'eejits' who toil in the poppy fields.

Escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect. Around every turn in this vivid, futuristic adventure is a new, heart-stopping surprise.

Farmer’s book has won many awards, most notably the National Book Award, so you do not need me to tell you whether it is well-written or interesting. Although I had not heard it particularly listed as such, The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian novel. Matt lives in the country of Opium, formed as a barrier to immigration between the United States and Mexico. Opium, as its name implies, earns money almost solely from the export of drugs. The workers are treated even worse than slaves. A steady supply of new workers come from the people in the U.S. hoping for better conditions in Mexico and vice versa. There is no better place: there is only Opium. Mexico has become a communist country, with all of the excesses and hypocrisy that brings.

Although the story was incredibly interesting, I had trouble relating to much to the characters. They all seemed to be driven by only one personality trait, which got quite old. People have more depth than that generally. Matt and El Patron were both driven almost entirely by the desire to preserve their lives, although El Patron includes with his life his hoard. Maria wants to save all creatures who cannot save themselves. Tom only cares about screwing with people. None of the characters were particularly likable, even Maria, who could be too trusting of people despite the evidence to the contrary.

Recommended for fans of dystopia and alternative futures. Especially recommended if you liked Neal Shusterman’s Unwind.

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