Dree's Reviews > The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
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's review
Jun 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-reads, the-west, latin-america, natl-book-award-all-winner-short, ya
Read from July 13 to 16, 2011

Fascinating and clever YA dystopia.

After spending his first 6 years in a small farm cabin with his guardian Celia, Matt sees some kids--they talk to him, and in his desire to get out he breaks a window and cuts himself. They take him to the big house. And his life goes downhill.

As a clone of Matteo Alarcan, El Patron, he is considered livestock. No one wants to touch him, talk to him, or be near him. He is imprisoned on a bed of chicken litter in a basement. He knows nothing of why he is being treated like this. Only Maria, one of the children he originally saw, is his friend.

El Patron himself comes to his rescue upon his return to his estates. For years Matt is educated and has a personal bodyguard, Tam Lin. Celia acts as his mother. Maria sees him whenever she is visiting. Until he is 14, Matt studies, and he learns all he can about the country of Opium that El Patron rules over, about the eejit workers, about the processing of opium and purifying of water. Tam Lin teaches him about rock climbing, plants, map reading, and more. Then when Matt is 14, El Patron, already 143 years old, becomes very ill. At this point, Matt learns what his future is to be, and plans for his escape come together.

Fascinating, and well done. The odd things is that this is a Newbery Honor book. This book is written at perhaps a 6th grade level--but the content is NOT for 6th graders. Newbery books are supposed to be for kids 14 and under. In spite of the simple text, this is a high school book. It is just as horrifying and disturbing as the Hunger Games (the eejits and the creation/treatment of them, Matt's treatment in the basement, the Keepers, beatings and pure cruelty, etc). Much of this would go over younger readers' heads: opium, laudanum, "Dreamland," the background behind the term "führer," geographical terms such as the Ajo Mountains, and the entire War on Drugs background to this novel. I am sure many high school students (and probably adults) would not get it either--but I would like to think some of it would sound familiar. This book has more to it than the reading level would imply.

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07/15/2011 page 160
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