The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion

4.5 678
by Nancy Farmer
     
 

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This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.

Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States

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Overview

This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.

Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster—except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
“This is mind-expanding fiction for older teens that also works for adults—think Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Orwell's 1984 or Nevil Shute's On the Beach.”
Chicago Tribune
“Strong, rough, exciting reading.”
The Boston Globe
“A story rich in twists and tangles, heroes and heroines, villages and dupes, and often dazzlingly beautiful descriptive prose.”
starred review Booklist
* “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story.”
Publishers Weekly
In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "In this eerily realistic depiction of society 100 years hence, the wealthy class harvests the organs of clones to prolong their lives. Farmer explores vital and soul-searching questions about what it means to be human." Ages 11-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus

An inspiring tale of friendship, survivial, hope, and transcendence

KLIATT
In a future world where an evil empire called Opium is tucked in between the U.S. and Aztlán (formerly Mexico), a young clone named Matt comes of age. His foot is tattooed "Property of the Alacrán Estate"; he is the clone of El Patrón, the cruel 142-year-old ruler of Opium, a drug kingdom farmed by "eejits," brain-dead clones. Matt has not has his brain deadened; he is a favorite of El Patrón, reminding him of his lost youth, though the man's nasty, conspiring family hates Matt, considering him "livestock." Matt's other champions are a cook and a bodyguard, who conspire to save him from a fate of being harvested for organs for El Patrón. A girl named María comes to love Matt, too, and when El Patrón dies and the remaining family try to kill Matt, all his friends work to help him escape from the Alacrán estate. Matt runs off to Aztlán but is captured and taken to an awful orphanage, which is more of a Nazi-style work camp. There he makes friends, helps incite a rebellion, and is thrown into a bone pit and almost dies. He escapes, finds María, and returns at last to his inheritance, the Alacrán estate, with plans to undo the evil of El Patrón. This is a long but engrossing SF adventure by the Newbery Honor-winning author of A Girl Named Disaster, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, and other books for young readers. Farmer grew up in Yuma, Arizona and evokes the landscape of this Mexican border area beautifully. Matt is an appealing hero, despised by many for being a clone but noble and brave in the face of the many hardships he encounters. He learns to value himself, ignoring the opinion of others, and comes to understand that he has the power to make change for good. This will appeal toadventure story lovers as well as SF fans. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students.
— Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT
Looks can be deceiving. Though he has grown up in relative isolation, young Mateo Alacràn looks like a normal boy of six. Yet on the day he meets his first outsiders, he discovers he is anything but a normal boy. He is a clone. In a futuristic world in which clones are despised by humans and used only for medical purposes, Matt is an exception. He carries within him the DNA of the powerful drug lord El Patròn, and therefore, is treated to the finest life and education. As he grows and learns, he attempts to reconcile his love for El Patròn with the evil world the man has produced, a world in which millions of humans and animals are turned to zombies and many clones are slaughtered for their organs. Guided by a few friends who love and watch over him, Matt must summon the courage to flee to safety after El Patròn's death, and the compassion to return and attempt to change the drug kingdom forever. Farmer presents a fresh look at the coming of age theme in her futuristic and controversial world of clones and zombies. Despite a rather hasty and almost simplistic ending to the novel, the plot is engaging, and the characters are well developed and sympathetic. High school students will connect with Matt as he grows from a frightened little boy to a young man who wrestles with difficult issues and decisions. 2002, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 380 pp.,
— Erin Nita Miller
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Nancy Farmer's 2002 National Book Award winner and Newbery Honor book (Atheneum, 2002) takes listeners to a futuristic, but familiar, Central American landscape where a powerful drug lord includes his own clones among his possessions. Narrator Robert Ramirez does a solid job with a large cast of characters and the many Spanish words and phrases that heighten the story's authenticity. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Matt Alacrán has spent his youth secreted away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as a beast by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a fantastic adventure in a land called Opium, a strip of land between the US and a place once called Mexico. Opium is ruled by El Patr-n, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by "eejits"-docile farm workers controlled by brain implants-and overseen by an army of bodyguards. Farmer's tale is a wild, futuristic coming-of-age story with a science-fiction twist: How do you find out who you are when what you are is a clone-a photograph-of a human being. How have you come to exist, and for what purpose? Can you ever expect to be more than what you were designed to be? As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons' hoards, and killing fields, Matt's story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans.
Booklist
* “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story.”
From the Publisher
* “Readers will be hooked from the first page.”

* "An inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence."

* “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story.”

“Mind-expanding fiction.”

“Strong, rough, exciting reading.”

“A story rich in twists and tangles, heroes and heroines, villages and dupes, and often dazzlingly beautiful descriptive prose.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780689852237
Publisher:
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
04/27/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
21,298
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: In the Beginning

In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room.

Water bubbled through tubes that snaked around the warm, humid walls. Air was sucked into growth chambers. A dull, red light shone on the faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass dishes. Each one contained a drop of life.

Eduardo moved his dishes, one after the other, under the lens of the microscope. The cells were perfect — or so it seemed. Each was furnished with all it needed to grow. So much knowledge was hidden in that tiny world! Even Eduardo, who understood the process very well, was awed. The cell already understood what color hair it was to have, how tall it would become, and even whether it preferred spinach to broccoli. It might even have a hazy desire for music or crossword puzzles. All that was hidden in the droplet.

Finally the round outlines quivered and lines appeared, dividing the cells in two. Eduardo sighed. It was going to be all right. He watched the samples grow, and then he carefully moved them to the incubator.

But it wasn't all right. Something about the food, the heat, the light was wrong, and the man didn't know what it was. Very quickly over half of them died. There were only fifteen now, and Eduardo felt a cold lump in his stomach. If he failed, he would be sent to the Farms, and then what would become of Anna and the children, and his father, who was so old?

"It's okay," said Lisa, so close by that Eduardo jumped. She was one of the senior technicians. She had worked for so many years in the dark, her face was chalk white and her blue veins were visible through her skin.

"How can it be okay?" Eduardo said.

"The cells were frozen over a hundred years ago. They can't be as healthy as samples taken yesterday."

"That long," the man marveled.

"But some of them should grow," Lisa said sternly.

So Eduardo began to worry again. And for a month everything went well. The day came when he implanted the tiny embryos in the brood cows. The cows were lined up, patiently waiting. They were fed by tubes, and their bodies were exercised by giant metal arms that grasped their legs and flexed them as though the cows were walking through an endless field. Now and then an animal moved its jaws in an attempt to chew cud.

Did they dream of dandelions? Eduardo wondered. Did they feel a phantom wind blowing tall grass against their legs? Their brains were filled with quiet joy from implants in their skulls. Were they aware of the children growing in their wombs?

Perhaps the cows hated what had been done to them, because they certainly rejected the embryos. One after another the infants, at this point no larger than minnows, died.

Until there was only one.

Eduardo slept badly at night. He cried out in his sleep, and Anna asked what was the matter. He couldn't tell her. He couldn't say that if this last embryo died, he would be stripped of his job. He would be sent to the Farms. And she, Anna, and their children and his father would be cast out to walk the hot, dusty roads.

But that one embryo grew until it was clearly a being with arms and legs and a sweet, dreaming face. Eduardo watched it through scanners. "You hold my life in your hands," he told the infant. As though it could hear, the infant flexed its tiny body in the womb until it was turned toward the man. And Eduardo felt an unreasoning stir of affection.

When the day came, Eduardo received the newborn into his hands as though it were his own child. His eyes blurred as he laid it in a crib and reached for the needle that would blunt its intelligence.

"Don't fix that one," said Lisa, hastily catching his arm. "It's a Matteo Alacrán. They're always left intact."

Have I done you a favor? thought Eduardo as he watched the baby turn its head toward the bustling nurses in their starched, white uniforms. Will you thank me for it later?

Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer

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From the Publisher
* “Readers will be hooked from the first page.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "An inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence."—Kirkus, starred review

* “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story.”— Booklist, starred review

“Mind-expanding fiction.”—USA Today

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