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Monday, March 24, 2008

The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer
Challenge: YA Lit Challenge
Rating: 5/5

After some of the heavy reading I've been doing lately, it was nice to read a book that I didn't have to force myself to read. I'd run out of adjectives long before I'd fully describe this book, but let's start with engrossing, thought-provoking, and page-turning.

On the border between the US and what used to be Mexico is a vast region of drug kingdoms called Opium, where the powerful drug lords live on enormous sprawling estates and illegals that have been unlucky to be caught trying to cross the border toil away as slaves. The most powerful drug lord is El Patrón, and on his vast estate lives his extended family, friends, and also a young boy named Matt. Matt is different from the other children on the ranch. He was harvested from a cow at birth, and his foot bears the words "Property of the Alacrán Estate". He doesn't know why everyone in the household despises him, he doesn't know at first what it means when they call him a filthy clone.

Still, despite the malice and backbiting of the Alacrán family, Matt finds allies: his bodyguard, Tam Lin teaches him about the dirty reality of Opium that lies behind the manicured lawns and ornately decorated hallways. His caretaker, Celia, who spends all her energy keeping him safe from the schemes of the Alacráns.

Matt has a destiny. Matt rides through the opium fields, dreaming that El Patrón wants him to one day run the estate, but El Patrón had Matt created for his own selfish, life-prolonging purposes. After 140 years, his life is sustained by little more than a thread, and his next heart attack could mean the end for Matt.

Even though I was rereading this book, it was once again, unputdownable (is that a word?). I read it straight through in one sitting. It is a deceptively simple at first, just a story about a clone (not an unusual topic in scifi) but Nancy Farmer writes so beautifully and keeps us engaged in the Matt's story. It is a rarity in scifi to have an author who can write about concepts and keep the characters engaging, but this is that kind of book. Matt is a character that will stay with you. He has to fight, from birth, against impossible odds.

While very young, he lands in the care of a cruel housekeeper named Rosa, who imprisons him in a tiny room full of sawdust because she doesn't want the bother of caring for him. Nancy Farmer writes these chapters with an understanding of what a child might actually be thinking and feeling as they experience those horrors. They are not sloppy or sentimental, which makes them all the more powerful.

This is a book I recommend to you whether or not you read science fiction or YA fiction, because it simply transcends those labels. It is a breath-taking read, and I promise the story will grab you and not let go.


Melody said...

I love YA fictions, but I rarely read Scifi... still I will check out this book! Thanks for the great review, Kim. :)

Rhinoa said...

Great adjectives! This sounds eally interesting with a couple of tiny similarities to A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick. I will put it on my list for when I am allowed to treat myself to new books not on my list :)

Debi said...

Oooh, you're really making me want to move this one higher up on the pile! Though my daughter read and loved this one, I didn't really know anything about it except that it involved cloning.

Joy said...

Ewwww, I'm not a sci-fi reader, but you made this sound soooo good! I've heard of one other Farmer book, something about an arm, leg, eye??? lol Have you read that one?

Andi said...

I've seen this book in stores for years and it's always looked good, but I've never even read a review of it. Thanks for the tip!

Chris said...

This sounds awesome...and uh, you think it got enough awards? How can I pass it up?! Onto the list...I haven't read a good sci-fi book in a long time. I'll have to read this one when OUaT is over.

Nymeth said...

This sounds so good! I'm going to have to look for it. Thanks for the fabulous review!

Kim L said...

melody-even if you don't read scifi, I think you would enjoy this book! It is one of those great books that you could still read.

rhinoa-I hope you do read it. I'm curious what similarities you see to A Scanner Darkly. I haven't read it, but I did see the tripped out movie that came out recently.

debi-well now you know what a great book it is! It is a very quick read.

joy-yes, she wrote The Eye, The Ear and The Arm. I read it long long ago, but I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the plot. I remember liking that one too though.

andi-no prob, I'm sure you'll love it!

chris-no, I don't think it got enough awards :-) Definitely pick it up when you have a chance!

nymeth-I hope you enjoy it!