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.