The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer

Publishing Information: Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, 2002
ISBN: 0786250488 / 0689852231 (PB) / 0786250488 (LPeD) / 0606307427 (Turtle)
Pages: 380 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

Celia keeps Matt (Matteo) hidden away from everyone in her cottage on the edge of a poppy field in Aztlan. He is discovered by two children and injures his foot while playing with them. The injury reveals a tattoo "property of Alacran Estate." He is, in fact, a clone of the Drug Lord, El Patron who controls the poppy growing fields in Aztlan. His intelligence was protected at birth by El Patron unlike all of the other clones on the Alacran Estate. Taken to the big house, The House of the Scorpion, to live, Matt is despised by most of the family members. They treat him like an animal as if he is inhuman. Jealousy and hatred toward Matt increases when El Patron orders that he be educated and treated as an equal. As kind and protective as El Patron is toward Matt, he is old and sick. He needs organ transplants to keep him alive. Matt does not know the plans El Patron has for his future ... and harvesting time is growing closer. Surrounded by enemies, will Matt escape his destiny as an exact DNA match to El Patron?

Book Talk:
1. Matteo had not been born at the House of the Scorpion. In the traditional sense, he had not been born at all. His DNA had been placed in a Petri dish where it had divided and was then placed in the womb of a special cow where it grew from an embryo to a baby. Matt's DNA came from the leader of a country called Opium -- a strip of poppy growing fields wedged between the United States and an area that had once been called Mexico. The leader's name was El Patron. Matt was his clone. As a young boy, Matt had been kept almost in hiding. Around the age of six, he had been discovered by El Patron's great, great grandchildren and taken to the big house -- the House of the Scorpion, -- to live. Many in El Patron's family despised Matt . They called him animal or, even worse, monster. And when El Patron ordered that Matt be treated like an equal and given an education, the jealousy and hatred toward him only grew. Too bad for Matt that El Patron was very old and ver sick because only he stood between Matt and his enemites. Matt had not been born at the House of the Scorpion, but he had been born from teh DNA of the man who ruled that house. A man who dragged himself from abject poverty to great power by the sheer force of his will, his cunning, and his ruthlessness. Is this the fate that awaits Matt or can he escape that world and one day transform it into something much different?

2. Matt is a clone, only he doesn't know it. He just knows that Celia keeps him hidden away from everyon else in her cottage. He doesn't know that his intelligence was protected at birt by El Patron, Matteo Alacran, who always demanded that his personal clones be left intact -- not turned into mindless zombies like all the other clones who work on his estate. So Matt is being raised as if he were a normal boy -- at first alone with Celia and the in El Patron's household. But he is not a normal boy. He is Clone # 8, destined to have his organs harvested when they are mature so El Patron can pass the 150 year mark. Most of the people on the estate hate "eejits," their term for the minldess bodies that harvest the drug crops and do all the labor that keeps the Scorpion family wealthy. But El Patron came from a life of poverty. Even though he is now a cruel, evil, vicious man. he still remembers how miserable he was as a child. That's why he likes his clones, the young boys who are him, to have a happy and secure childhood. He gives them an education, all the things he never had -- and then he harvest them! And the time for harvest is drawing closer and closer for the young unsuspecting Matt.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Clones and Cloning
Coming of Age Stories
Drug Dealers

Awards & Reviews:
American Library Association Notable Children's Books, 2003
Booklist Editors' Choice; Books for Youth (Older Readers), 2002
Michael L. Printz Honro Book, 2003
National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2002
Newbery Honor Book, 2003

Pacific Northwest Young reader's Choice Award, 2005
Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award (Oklahoma), 2005
Young Adult Library Assocaiation Best Books for Young Adults, 2003

Gr. 7-10. This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful, story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story, in which a boy's self-image and right to life are at stake.
--Booklist (Starred Reveiew), September 15, 2002

As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), 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 (Starred Review), July 1, 2002

Gr 6-10--The multilayered story raises many issues, and doesn't always resolve them in obvious ways. Fans of Farmer's work will seek out this title. Some readers may be put off by its length, but those who dive in will find it worth the effort.
--School Library Journal, September 2002

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Why is the decision made not to "blunt" Matt's intelligence? Why do they blunt the intelligence of all of the other clones? What is life like for the clones whose intelligence has been "blunted?"
  2. As a clone, Matt is treated as inhuman by most people. Is a clone human even if his life started in a petrie dish and he was born from a cow?
  3. There is a very clear purpose for Matt's life: to be the organ donor who keeps El Patron alive. What do you think about cloning as it is described in the book?
  4. Did parts of the story seem believable? Explain. Which parts seemed unbelievable? Why?
  5. When Matt is leaving Opium, he cries for Celia and Tam Lin and El Patron. Why does Matt cry for El Patron?
  6. As long as Matt survives, El Patron does also. Is this statement true? Why or why not.
  7. What are Matteo's feelings about being cloned? How do you think you would feel if you found out today you were somebody's clone?

Related Websites:

Blueprint Charlotte Kerner, 2002,
Feed by M.T. Anderson, 2002
Double Helix by Nancy Werlin (2006 RITBA Nominee)
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 1985
The Giver, by Lois Lowry, 1993
Siberia by Ann Halam, 2005
Tyalor Five by Ann Halam, 2004

Other Books by the Author:
Do You Know Me, 1993
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, 1994
The Warm Place, 1995
A Girl Named Disaster, 1996
Runnery Granary, 1996
Casey Jones's Fireman: The Story of Sim Webb, 1998
The Sea of Trolls, 2004 (2006 RITBA Nominee)

About the Author:
Nancy Farmer is one of the most compelling voices in young adult literature. She received Newbery Honor awards for her books The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which also won the National Book Award and received a Printz Honor. Ms. Farmer grew up in Yuma, Arizona, where her parents ran a hotel near an abandoned prison. She spent her early adult life as a scientist, first with the Peace Corps teaching chemistry and biology in southern India; then seventeen more working in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where she met her husband. Ms. Farmer turned to writing after the birth of her son and has drawn upon her rich background. While she does not call herself a science fiction writer, Ms. Farmer explains, "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." Her latest novel, The Sea of Trolls, was published in fall 2004 and has received an impressive five starred reviews.