** spoiler alert **
Matt never knew exactly why he was different from all of the other people who lived in Opium –a strip of poppy fields that lay between the U.S. and what was once Mexico. He was forbidden to go outside his caretaker Celia’s home, and he had to hide if anyone ever passed by her cottage. Celia had raised Matt as her own child, but never let him believe that she was his real mother. She did this because Matt is a clone, implanted in the belly of a cow and grown for nine months before being cut out. To Celia, Matt is human, but to everyone else he is a beast and not human in any way.
One day, Matt gets too curious when a group of children come to his window, and he breaks all the rules he’s been told by breaking the window and talking to the children. Badly hurt by falling onto the broken glass, Matt is carried into a mansion the likes of which he could never imagine. Once the adults inside find out that Matt is not a normal boy, but the clone, he thrown out onto the front lawn an action that infuriates El Patrón, the drug lord and ruler of Opium.
Matt was made from the body tissue of El Patrón. Instead of ruining Matt’s brain right after he was born, El Patrón decided to let him live a normal, yet extremely privileged, life. El Patrón is 140 years old, living on harvested body parts from other clones like Matt. Essentially they are one in the same in terms of DNA, but Matt learns that he has to decide if he wants to live a cruel life like El Patrón, or become better than that.
Nancy Farmer’s futuristic thriller is exciting from start to finish. While the “Cast of Characters” and “Alacrán Family History” map initially come off as intimidating in the beginning, the reader will not need to rely on these two sections which are intended to help the reader keep track of the many characters. The reader follows Matt all the way from the very beginning of his life to the age of fourteen when his life changes forever. Definitely set in the future, Farmer does not give her reader’s an exact date to go off of, but it does not distract from the story as a whole. The reader follows Matt on a journey through his childhood and into his teen years, growing into an intelligent young man. While some readers may not enjoy the science fiction aspect of this book, Matt’s struggles with being good and resisting the evil that surrounds him is a common idea that might hook some readers.