Sunday, November 16, 2008

The House of Scorpion

1. Bibliography:

Farmer, Nancy. 2004. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9780689852237.

2. Summary:

Matt is a clone, but not just any clone. He is the clone of the El Patron, who is a powerful drug lord in a land between Mexico and the US. Unlike most clones who are used for harvesting organs, Matt has been kept in secret and allowed to live without being harmed. When he is finally free from his hiding, he must go on a journey to find out who he really is--a clone of El Patron or Matt.

3. Analysis:

In a society where cloning is often in the headlines, the topic for this book is one that will interest students in the middle school level. When I have talked about cloning with students while we watch our daily Channel One news, the topic always goes to humans. What would it be like to have cloned humans. This book explores one side of this topic...the side where clones are used, abused, and scorned. When you read,"'It's not a boy,' Tom said scornfully. 'It's a clone,'" you feel the punch to the gut that the next sentence tells us that Matt feels. How could a boy like Matt be considered anything other than the boy that he is. Even though the reality of human clones may be a ways away in the headlines, it is believable in a fiction form. The book also fulfills many of the "criteria" for a good young adult book. First, it has a young adult protagonist. Although the book starts out labeled 0-6 years, it does not stay there long. Most of the book (over 200 pages) is from ages 12-14. Therefore, readers can recognize their own feelings and reactions such as Matt's dealings with Jorge, the unfair taskmaster, which is how many middle school age kids see any authority figure. Readers can also identify with Matt's growing friendship with his fellow prisoners. Although he struggles to fit in, as he discovers himself, he finds his place in the group and becomes a hero by taking the beating meant for Fidelito.Second, action is all over the book. Readers follow Matt as he is trapped in horrible conditions where he is put in paper like an animal because people don't believe clones are housebroken. They then follow him to a happier time when he tastes of the wealth and luxury life of El Patron. Happiness doesn't last long when he must flee and ends up working under a harsh Jorge. As the action concludes, the writer leaves the readers will a hopeful ending, which is the third fulfillment of good YA criteria. Matt discovers himself (and perhaps the readers discover a little of themselves) and takes his rightful place as the next ruler of El Patron's estate, vowing to do good with his power instead of evil. It's even nicer that Maria will be there by his side, at last reunited with her mother.

4. Reviews:
Winner of the 2002 National Book AwardYoung People's Literature
A 2003Newbery Honor Book
A 2003Michael L. Printz Honor Book
The author strikes a masterful balance between Matt's idealism and his intelligence. The novel's close may be rushed, and Tam Lin's fate may be confusing to readers, but Farmer grippingly demonstrates that there are no easy answers. The questions she raises will haunt readers long after the final page. Ages 11-14.Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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