Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Best of Me by Kyle Tallman.

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 bestselling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Published: April 27, 2004
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Pages: 400
Current Amazon Rank: #5,578

Author's Website: Nancy Farmer
Want it? Find it here.

The First Line:

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

My Take:

With a positive bursting of dystopians available out there, it can be hard to find one that sticks with the kind of force that requires flipping right back to the beginning to start over.

I've mentioned this book before, but I've been saving reviewing it until Lenore's Dystopian month came up again. Nancy Farmer really is an extraordinary writer (I mean, she won three Newbery Honors in almost as many books).

Matt's story of realizing he's a clone to one of the most powerful drug lords in Opium--the imaginary strip of country in between the US and Mexico--is a riveting, multi-layered adventure. She makes many wonderful decisions, like having Matt realize he is a clone within the first chapter instead of waiting for the "big reveal" that the end. He's only five years old and it is heartbreaking what happens after.

I adored the Hispanic elements of this story. I loved how Celia, his caretaker and one of the few people that actually loves him, spoke Spanish to him. It just made the story that much deeper. And by the way Chupacabras are really freaky.

Nancy Farmer excels with the craft of language, but also her characters. She has an incredible knack for making even the villains (including Matt's horrible extended family) filled with layers and hidden parts to where you feel real sympathy for them. Even El Patron, the ancient drug lord from whom Matt was created, has glimpses of humanity. And trust me, this dude is evil. You want an totalitarian dictator more soul-shivering than President Snow? Look no further. You have him right here, full stop. Because this man is terrifying. I cringed from reading some of his passages. You read about dystopians with "absolute control" and it is something you learn to accept. But here, I actually felt it. I fully believed this man had control of every particle of his little empire. I think this works so well because it echoes reality just enough to make it feel real. I know about drug lords and the rule they have, I know of men like this. El Patron does not try to control the world, but he does control his world. I could not turn the pages fast enough.

But first and foremost, this is Matt's story and I loved every twist and turn in it. Biggest complaint though? There is a part (trying not to give too much away here) where he leaves the opium plantation for a bit and until he gets back that little piece does not feel like it belongs to the rest of the book. It feels… disjointed. When I reread this, I often forget that it is there. But other than that? Hardcore love. This is the best kind of story, one that raises the best questions while being a story first.

The Final Word:

A dystopian that has stood the test of time. Rich, complex, and different, this is a dystopian I would recommend almost without exception, especially for the different cultures represented.


Rebecca Gomez said...

I agree. This book is heaps better than its $2.00 bargain sticker gave it credit for.

The first book I ever read by Nancy Farmer was THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM. The cover made it look overly cheesy, but I loved it!

Okie said...

My son and I read this a few years ago (actually, he read it first based on a recommendation from his school librarian and then he recommended it to me).

It's a great read. I haven't ever bothered to seek out more work by Nancy Farmer. I probably should. Thanks for the reminder. :)