The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer


Farmer, Nancy.  The House of the Scorpion.  Simon & Schuster, 2002.  $17.95, 400 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

When Matt realizes his sole reason for existing is to be replacement parts for a drug lord, he takes his future into his own hands.


After Matt is successfully bred in a test tube, he goes to live uneventfully with the cook who works for El Patron.  By chance, Matt ends up at El Patron’s estate Opium, where he is recognized as El Patron’s clone.  The Alacran family treats Matt like an animal after making this discovery, however, Matt is unaware of who he is.  His only friends are Cecilia, the cook he lived with, Maria, the daughter of a senator, and Tam Lin, his bodyguard.  Matt is forced to face the truth when El Patron himself verifies that he is indeed a clone, and that he plans on harvesting his organs when his own fail.  Matt then makes the decision to escape, leaving behind everything and everyone he has known to become his own person.


Being a science fiction work, this novel asks readers to stretch their imagination beyond what is viable with current technology. Despite this stretch of imagination, Matt’s character is believable as an emotional teenager who is trying to figure out who he is.  He even tests the boundaries of his own power the same way teens test boundaries.  Farmer’s writing style produces a chilling portrait of the future of Mexico and the drug trade.  She builds suspense around the discovery of Matt’s identity.  The language is contemporary but complex, painting a vivid picture of the characters and the plot.  Thematically, Farmer deals with themes of power and identity, of the ethics of cloning and slavery, and of family and belonging.  These complex themes bring up great discussion points and make the story much deeper than an interesting plot.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  science fiction – dystopia, bioengineering; adventure – survival

Appeal Factors: cloning, dystopia, mystery, action, adventure

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award
  • Printz Winner
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The setting of Opium and the estate
  • Maria and Matt’s decision to run away
  • Confronting El Patron about his purpose in life as a clone

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Where would you prefer to live:  Opium or Aztlan?  What are the pros and cons of each?
  • Matt has a complicated relationship with El Patron.  When he leaves Opium, why might El Patron be included in the group of people Matt cries for?
  • Are clones their own entities?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because Matt’s character was compelling, as was his story.  All teenagers are searching for their identities, and Matt had the added element that he was a clone of someone else.  The setting was also interesting, as it was a real place, just set in the future.  I was also curious as to how Farmer envisioned the future of issues like cloning and drug trafficking, and even immigration that are contemporary issues being dealt with today.


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