Educators, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION provides a valuable and sensitive context for a discussion on genetics and cloning. To begin the journey, read the novel alongside your student(s). Next, discuss the science. There are a number of kid-friendly articles on cloning, I liked this one from Science News For Students
Finally, with an understanding of what cloning is, dig deep into the human story presented by Nancy Farmer in her deftly written account of a boy clone, Matt Alacrán.
I reviewed THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION on another post on this website. If you continue reading this post, you’ll encounter more than a few spoilers, so beware, click here if you’re interested in reading the novel review before continuing.
To order HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, click here.
Here are a few questions to get the discussion flowing.
- Who is Matt? How would you describe him?
- Why do you think others often treat him cruelly?
- How would you describe Celia?
- What does Celia feel about Matt?
- What does El Patrón feel about Matt? Why do you think he calls Matt “mi vida”?
- What does it mean to be owned by a person? (Tam Lin, Matt, Celia, and even Felicia…all of them tell stories that indicate they are owned and not free…owned by El Patrón.) How is it that El Patrón owns them?
- What is an eejit?
- How is an eejit similar or different than Matt?
- How would you describe Matt’s struggle with being a clone? Does it make sense to you? Why or Why not?
- Matt’s life makes a positive difference in the lives of many others in the novel. Make a list of those people.
- Do you believe the cloning of people will take place in our future? In no, why?
- If yes, How should clones be viewed by the society that creates them?
- Can you imagine a situation where you would choose to have a clone of yourself created or that of a loved one?
Synopsis of the Cloning Story:
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION is a Middle Grade/YA novel that follows the story of Matt Alacrán, one soul and his battle to find meaning and love in the midst of his genetic reality. El Patrón, a powerful drug lord who has an appetite for eternal life, has allowed Matt to be created as his clone, but the assumption is that Matt will not to live much past his adolescence. El Patrón’s long-term plans are to harvest the boy’s organs for himself. Neither the reader nor Matt know all of this initially. The reveal happens little by little. This is not a horror story in essence, though there are horrific issues to grapple with…Primarily, this story is about a young person figuring out who he is, learning day by day what it means to be human.
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION
by Nancy Farmer
read by Raúl Esparza
8 out of 10
Highly Recommend! This listen is perfect for a family road trip because the novel is well written and engaging enough to capture the interest of a variety of story-lovers, young and old. The audio voices are well-performed by actor, Raúl Esparza (Ferdinand, Law & Order: Special Victim’s unit) and the story lends itself easily to the listening ear.
5 Reasons for such a strong review:
1. Initially, there are few characters to follow and as new ones are introduced, the listener can maintain a grip on who everyone is…including, there are a number of characters with accents and very distinct voices (performed well by Esparza).
2. The point of view is third person, it stays close to Matt. It does not jump around from character to character.
3. The repetition of little stories told mostly by El Patrón, work like anchors for the listening brain. I write about this in my review of the novel, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION Repetition is a common story-telling technique, much like songwriters or poets will use a chorus or a repeated stanza to drive a point home.
4. The writing is top notch, which means, the dialogue is well written. The dialogue feels authentic, like real people talking.
5. Description of Opium takes place slowly and organically. The listener doesn’t have to absorb a huge amount of exposition, the describing of places, houses, rooms, plants, animals, people etc..takes place incrementally. Matt’s life starts out small and his view of Opium is narrow, but little by little, as he learns, the listener learns. Details are added that are important, but not all at once. It makes the audio format easy to follow.
For more on how to choose a good audiobook, see Part II The Rise of the Audio Book
Nancy Farmer’s first of of three novels, following the life of Matteo (Matt) Alacrán, is a story worth reading to or with your kids. The primary moral challenge centers around cloning, but there are many other ethical questions that will arise in the reading. Farmer’s writing creates real characters, despite the fantastical nature of the world. She takes on complicated relationships. power dynamics, and even religion as she draws the readers toward an inevitable reckoning. She stays close to the child, Matt, who grows up in the oddly luxurious world that is Opium. Matt is a young child at the start of the narrative, a teenager by the end. The story is told in close third person.
Matt is a clone of the wealthiest drug Lord in the world, an elderly Mexican man who dragged himself out of poverty to become one of the wealthiest men in the world. He is known as El Patrón. El Patrón is well over 100 years old. He rules his nation through fear and raw power and on its land he produces enough Opium, legal and illegal, for those who need the product. The land of Opium is both a place of horrors and an ecological oasis. Nothing is simple in Opium, as the reader will slowly discover.
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION deals with extreme wealth versus extreme poverty as well as power, ecological degradation, leadership, friendship, loyalty, religion and meaning. All of this subject matter is delivered in an impactful way to the young reader through relatable characters.
Farmer uses a style of writing that does not explain too much too early, but for those details that are difficult to fathom, they get repeated many times throughout the book, almost like a chorus. For example, the story of how El Patrón’s siblings perished, is told and retold. The story reveals the condition of poverty endured by his family, his town, his people and how desperately powerless he had been at one time. El Patrón is an old man…of course he would repeat himself again and again, but there is more to that story. The tale is part of the legend and a defining trauma in the life of the old man. The story also reminds the reader that Matt, though he is an exact replica of El Patrón on a cellular level, his life experiences will have been completely different. That memory of losing his family is El Patrón’s, but not Matt’s. The nature versus nurture debate looms in the background of this narrative and is worthy of a hearty discussion with your child.
Many other issues are introduced in THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION There is more great storytelling and ethics to unearth as the narrative progresses. Nothing is black and white in Matt’s world, but this is why I would recommend the book. Farmer has put forward a character and a world with the kind of complexity that leads to memorable discussions. My next post will cover a short audiobook review of THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION.
To buy THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, click here.