Book Review: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Matt is not a human. He is a clone, and his sole reason for existence is to provide body parts for El Patrón, his “father.” Matt does not know this because Celia, who cooks for El Patrón, lives in isolation with Matt. Matt does not know he is different. He only knows that at six years old he wants to be around other people. He throws a pan through the window of the house he was locked in (Farmer 18-9) so he could play with María, Emilia, and Steven. Not even these children of Senator Mendoza (the girls) and the great-great-grandson of El Patrón (Steven) know who Matt is.
Matt eventually gains his freedom, thanks to Celia and a body guard named Tam Lin (chapter 24), but Matt ends up as a lost boy who is worked slavishly and punished for questioning authority. “I see our aristocrat needs further education,” a boy known as a keeper says (298). Thinking freely was not permitted in El Patrón’s world nor is it permitted in the lost boys’ world. The House of the Scorpion intimately deals with what it means to be human and humane and the power of the freedom to think differently from authority. Matt survives precisely because he is able to think his way out of difficult decisions. He was taught this by Celia and Tam Lin because they knew that he was just the latest in a long line of clones, and they chose to make Matt the last clone of El Patrón.
It is not just the choices children make; it is also the choices adults make. Because of this, The House of the Scorpion is an important read for adults as well. The adults created a society in which El Patrón and the keepers were able to thrive. It is when Matt wields his ability to think differently that humane changes occur. Farmer shows us through Matt’s viewpoint what it means to be a human, what it means to be humane, what it means to blindly follow authority, and how one person can make changes to the status quo. I look forward to the sequel, when Matt returns to take the deceased El Patrón’s place because with his death Matt is now considered a real person.
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002.