Farmer, Nancy (2002). The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon and Schuster. 309 pages.
Oh my clones! This is definitely one of the best and most engaging books I have ever read. It is no wonder it was awarded the National Book Award, Newbery Honor, and Printz Honor. Cloned from El Patron, the dictator of Opium, Matt is treated like an animal by most citizens, though because he shares the DNA of El Patron he is also protected and revered. Matt struggles against the stigma of being a clone–equal to that of swine in his society–of being accepted by others, accepting himself as human, and figuring out his role in the world.
The complexity of Matt’s relationship with El Patron ranges in extreme passion from hatred to love; he loves him for teaching him and giving him the opportunity to live, but he hates him for his totalitarian ways and egocentrism. Despite El Patron’s romanticizing of his childhood past, he does not clone himself to further his legacy or continue his bloodline as his nostalgic egocentrism might suggest. Instead, El Patron creates Matt for spare parts to ensure his life beyond the 140 years. Matt does not accept this fact until El Patron is on the verge of death, in need of a new heart and Matt is summoned to provide his. The ethical implications of creating life to sustain another is deeply embedded in the novel. Although the novel is actually set in an unknown future–there are hovercars and plankton farms–Opium is still 140 years behind though with the capacity of using the technology found in the rest of the world. The dichotomy of the past and future creates a society with vast class differences, the lowest being the “eejits” whose minds are not their own and are controlled through technology. Personal feelings about cloning aside, Opium allows cloning and labels clones as animals. The House of the Scorpion presents the opportunity to discuss the ethical dilemmas both in the book and how this future presented in the novel reflects the social order and the scientific advancements in our own society.
In order to hook young adults into reading about this engaging world, I would paint the scenario of this future before reading a passage:
During the wedding of Emilia and Steven, an arranged marriage, EL Patron succumbs to a hear attack. Matt’s childhood friend and first love, Maria who is Emilia’s sister, attempts to help Matt escape his fate as El Patron’s personal organ farm. Then read pages 223-227, which ends the chapter entitled “Betrayal” and segues into the next segment of Matt’s growth.