Saturday, August 22, 2009

BR: The House of the Scorpion


by Nancy Farmer

First, happy 50th post to me! My friend had been telling me again and again to read this, apparently it was very good. And then, when I was browsing through the library and saw it, I remembered what he said, and then...I looked at the stickers. It's won (well, 'honored' in a few) 3 awards! They are: National Book Award (win), Printz, and Newberry (honor)! I had to read it! :) And just noticing, this review has a LOT of tags...

The House of the Scorpion is the story of Matt Alacran, a clone of an old, powerful drug lord named El Patron. It tells his entire story, from birth to age 14, and is about his journey from a naive kid to self-acceptance. Set in the futuristic country called Opium (where narcotics are grown, harvested, transported, etc) Matt struggles to understand his existance. Everyone hates clones, they're treated worse than animals; the only people who befriend Matt are his caretaker, Celia, a girl, Maria, a bodyguard, Tam Lin, and the man who cloned him, El Patron. He loves El Patron and blinds himself from seeing his (El Patron's) faults, a downfall for Matt. Under the command, and fear of El Patron, people are forced to 'accept' him, but that doesn't stop them from hating him. Matt has the odds stacked against him, but he still struggles to survive, despite some extreme circumstances.

It's hard to write a summary for this novel because it's so 'vast', and covers so much time and events. I can't summarize an event from when he's 14, because it might spoil an event from when he's 6. I don't want to give away too much (that's what you guys reading it is for!)

I really liked this book for many reasons. First, I loved the futuristic setting Farmer used, centered around a drug-trading nation, but still 'not really' completely about that. The medical advancements with transplants and clones reminded me (vaguely) for Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

The characters were another big hit for me. "Eejits" are people (slaves) with computer chips inside them that make them obey every command, they don't even drink unless instructed too. Complete obedience, they have no life, no opinion, and just work in the poppy fields all day. These zombies are a great creation, and really sets the tone for the type of country El Patron runs. I also enjoyed the character Maria, I could 'feel' her chemistry with Matt, and their romance (not a lot, but enough) was adorable (my guy friend even admitted that). The people who stuck with Matt, who didn't hate him or treat him like scum also earned my respect. I admit, I underestimated Celia, believing she had no backbone. I also respected Tam Lin, a bodyguard who has his own demons but still befriends Matt against others' opinions.

Of course, I can't leave out Matt, who is such a strong protagonist. He's dealt with shit (figuratively and literally) for a lot of his life, from as soon as he learned what he was. He was always able to move past it, not letting it affect him drastically. He refuses to 'curl up and die' when he is mistreated or looked down upon, but just works that much harder for acceptance and approval. His relationship with El Patron was completely realistic in my eyes, he had a "hero-worship" thing going on, but if you look at it from Matt's shoes, El Patron gives him so much that he would not have gotten otherwise. Matt loves El Patron for 'saving' him, and he can't understand why others hate him. It takes him too long to see through the lies and find out El Patron's ultimate ulterior motives. When he finally gets the truth, he fights back, a strong trait I greatly admire. Matt is a complex, well written character who is believable and incredibly intricate.

And let's not count out the antagonists, who are cleverly written and have their own layers. Angel-faced devil, Tom, was a joy to read (and also a joy to hate) since he put up such a angelic front, but was evil! Reading about El Patron through Matt's perspective (it's a third-person limited) was conflicting, especially when dealing with Matt's personal opinion versus everyone else's.

Lastly, I liked the plot a lot (yay for rhymes, LOL). I liked how Farmer took us through his whole life, instead of just jumping into it when he's 14. It gives us a lot to think about, and helps us understand the obstacles in Matt's life. It also gives us perspective on his journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance, and his childhood experiences are invaluable. The plot was interesting, and kept me engaged, it was hard to put the book down. Matt's story was amazingly (I hate to use this word...) cool. I had to know what happened next in his life. I didn't find the writing impeccable, but it was good enough to captivate me and suck me into Matt's world.

One thing that I didn't like was the ending. (No spoilers!). It was a bit too 'easy' for me, I would have wanted a bit more action. It does leave a bit up to the reader, and doesn't tie up everything with a bow though (think anti-Breaking Dawn).

9/10 - because I'm usually not a fan of sci-fi, but I really liked this one. I loved Matt, his story, the characters, and the futuristic world. Farmer had some pretty unique ideas that I enjoyed. The ending was only okay, but the whole thing as a 'package' was a really enjoyable read. The House of the Scorpion is an inspiring tale of hope, friendship, and survival. It touches on today's issues today, including political, ethical, and scientific ideas, might be interesting for a school project. I would recommend this for a person who enjoys futuristic sci-fi novels, or wants to read an dark 'adventure' story with a great protagonist.

--AyC

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