title: The House of the Scorpion
author: Nancy Farmer
how I read it: in book form, about six times in three different houses – my copy is much-loved, complete with dog ears and chocolate stains.
Clones, opium, betrayal, love, power, slavery...and did I mention clones? Farmer’s tells the story of Matt, a young clone – dehumanized, isolated – and his growing understanding of the world and his role within it. When Matt is a child, locked in a small shack in the middle of vast opium fields, he is discovered by three other children. Matt has never played with other children. He has no mother, father or siblings. His only companion is Celia, who loves him dearly, cares for him, and keeps him hidden during the day while she is away. Matt’s introduction to the wider world is anything but kind, but he must learn to be strong in order to survive.
This is one of my all-time favourite books. You’d think that I’d know it by heart after six or seven reads, but it still surprises and shocks me every single time. It’s a dark, depressing story in many ways, but – as with any good story – there are still glimmers of hope.
Matt is a captivating main character. He is in turn naive and shrewd; kind and cruel; young and wise. I spent most of the book wanting to gather him in my arms, whether he was a small child or an adolescent. Farmer wrote in such a way that six-year-old Matt is a true six-year-old. The vocabulary and voice grow and change along with Matt. This growth was very well-executed and made the story all the more compelling. The suspense builds from the beginning of the book and doesn’t let up.
The future that Farmer has created is dark and frightening. It doesn’t seem all that implausible that some day land controlled by druglords might claim independence from other nations. It doesn’t seem all that impossible that the strong would find a way to enslave the weak using the most horrific form of mind control. It doesn’t seem unbelievable that someday the rich and immoral would twist technological advances to better their own lives at the expense of others.
This book brings up a lot of questions. Which is stronger, nature or nurture? How do we define right and wrong? Is it possible to atone for evil that we’ve done in the past? What makes a person a person? How do we balance ethics with rapid technological advances? How can we stand up for what we believe to be right when the rest of the world disagrees with us?
Oh, my brain hurts.
This book made me want to: read it again. And also say no to drugs.
Verdict: one of the best books that I’ve ever read...and I’ve read a lot of books.
Sequels: nada. This is the second standalone book that I’ve reviewed in a row. What a shocker!