This book came to me with a stack of others from a local school librarian. She bestowed on me the amazing honor of giving book talks for her middle school students next school year and sent me on my way with a bagful of titles to read in preparation. When I picked this one up from the shelf, I didn't expect to post anything about it on this site. I'm all for YA, and I've posted before about great YA titles that cross over well to adult readers, but it's been a long time since I read anything specifically targeted at middle grades, and I thought, you know, how good could it be?
I might as well stop making assumptions at all, ever, because of how frequently I've been wrong lately. The House of the Scorpion got my attention like a bucket of cold water over the head. It's tightly-written and confronts a whole host of complex ethical issues without flinching. Nancy Farmer may write for kids, but she doesn't mince words.
Matt has spent his entire childhood in a tiny shack in a field of poppies. A woman named Celia takes care of him, but she's told him not to call her Mom. She spends all day working as a cook in a big house out of sight, leaving Matt locked inside the shack. One day three children appear outside Matt's window. He knows Celia will be furious with him if he breaks out, but he's so lonely he does it anyway.
Suddenly Matt learns he isn't just a regular human—he's a clone, a genetic copy of another person. And not just any person—Matt's originator is Matteo Alacran, “El Patron,” the most powerful drug dealer alive on the border between the US and Canada.
El Patron seems to like Matt and makes sure he has a good education and an easy life. But there are questions that bother Matt. El Patron is over 140 years old—how has he managed to live so long? Why did he have a clone made in the first place? Is Matt a real human, or an animal as some of El Patron's resentful relatives suggest?
Matt has to escape from El Patron's opium plantation, but he's not prepared for the strange world he finds outside it, where orphan children are used as slave labor and cured of their individualism. How will Matt elude all the people who try to control him? What kind of person would he be if he got to choose for himself?
Just a reminder: Summer of Sci-Fi continues this Sunday with the second book on our list, Starship Troopers. It's not too late to join in! Serendipity alert: The House of the Scorpion, with its futuristic premise, could qualify for the list in its own right. So you can consider this one a Summer of Sci-Fi bonus book!