The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Date reviewed: 4/5/04               format used for review: audiobook                    author’s website

IL/Grade:  YA                                               Awards: National Book, Newbery Honor, Printz

Summary: Stunning portrayal of cloning technology used for replacement body parts. Matt is a clone of Matteo Alacron (aka El Patron, aka The Scorpion) who is the aged founder of the Alacron family and opium drug cartel. Matt grows up isolated with his foster mother Celia who tries to keep him inside by frightening him with stories of chupacabras, but he is soon thrust into the main household as the only clone whose brain was not fried (turned into an “eejit”) at birth. By allowing this independence, El Patron’s family members treat Matt no better than a dog, which pains him intensely. He knows he must escape or be used as just another organ donor at El Patron’s next heart attack.

Personal Reaction: Somewhat violent and gruesome, but realistically done without foul language. Though the subject matter is sensitive (not sure if drug cartel is what we want to put on a state reading list), the drugs are secondary to the futuristic cloning debate and use of clones as organ donors and/or slaves.

Suitable for Read Aloud?     No, much too long and possible parent objection to subject matter as being non-curriculum related

Points for discussion with children:  cloning issues/debates, humanity, slavery, drug cartels and issues/debates

Possible classroom uses: Excellent novel, but should be recommended rather than required.

Connections to other books? This could be used the same as any novel in which the young main character feels isolated and bullied. Pair this with non-fiction on cloning or drugs: Mutants, Clones, and Killer Corn (Discovery!) or Opium (Drugs: The Straight Facts). For futuristic drama easier reading, try Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) by Haddix, or for a challenge try Jurassic Park by Crichton.

Realia: DNA models or photos; twin dolls; stuffed cow; piano; crucifix; candle w/ Virgin of Guadalupe; photographs of opium; model or photo of gun; syringe; map created by dividing US, wastelands, and Azatlan/South America

Food items connected to story: Spanish foods – quesadillas, enchiladas, beans; plankton/seaweed; birthday cake

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