Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Have you ever thought about clones and what they could be used for? Or maybe life 150 years from now? Or the problems that powerful drug lords create? Well, it may seem implausible, but I assure that in this book, Nancy Farmer combines them all as she paints a vivid picture of life in the future for the clone of the most powerful drug lord of the time. Even as she draws out the future social and political meanings of scientific progress, she weaves a heart-wrenching (and ultimately warming) story of survival, uniqueness, friendship, and family. 

The story is separated into four parts: early age (0-6), when we learn about how Matt was born in a petrie dish and then incubated inside a cow; middle age (7-12) where we are (with Matt) thrown into a culture that loathes clones and treats them as worse than animals. During old age (12-14), Matt learns quickly, watches people, and understands that he does, at least, have three friends in the world: his surrogate mother, Celia, the bodyguard, Tam Lin, and Maria, the sensitive girl who feels compassion for everything--frogs, black-widow spiders...even clones. But in the last section (age 14), Matt eventually escapes from Opium (the grand estate where he had been cloistered his whole life, to live in modern day Mexico. 

And oh, what a shock he gets when he is greeted at the border by a Keeper! Modern day Mexico is about a communist as you can imagine, forcing everyone to work the same and have the same output and rewarding them with food (or no food as punishment), having ritual bedtime stories and chants about being responsible citizens. Well, Matt knows all about people that have to do the same work all day long without complaining--in Opium, they are called eejits (perhaps Farmer's respelling of idiots?), and they have a clamp in their brain that basically turns them into zombies that only do what they are told, even if it kills them. 

Aside from Matt's coming of age and extraordinary metamorphosis from a timid child "animal" to a confident young man, Farmer's book gives us many good questions to think about. How do freedom and equality relate to one another? What makes a truly good friend? Is there ever a replacement for family? What happens when greed completely consumes a person? 

This is truly a fantastic book, well worthy of the many awards it as received; definitely a good one to read and discuss. But I would not recommend it to anyone under junior high age, simply because of some truly disturbing images presented in the books. Of course, considering what many children are presented with on television and in horror books and movies, they would perhaps be callous to the more traumatic elements of the story. But for those who are not accustomed to such images, I'll just say that most of this book would not make for good bedtime reading.