Published in 2002, Nancy Farmer’s novel The House of the Scorpion was only just recommended to me a few months ago. I added it to my Goodreads and made a mental note to keep it on my radar next time I went hunting for used books. After reading the 15-year-old book, I cannot give any excuse as to why I’ve never picked it up before. The novel’s cover is decorated with three impressive literary award seals, as the novel won the National Book Award, and was named a Newbery Honor Book and Printz Honor Book. I soon came to discover that despite its age and my ignorance, Farmer’s novel lives up to all its critical acclaim.
This young adult novel defies a singular genre, arguably being able to be categorized as science fiction or dystopian. Set in the future, the novel’s protagonist, Matteo Alacrán, is the clone of El Patrón, the drug lord, and ruler of a country called Opium, which lies between the United States and the country that was once Mexico, called Aztlán. Matt struggles with the weighted knowledge of what it means to be an exact copy of one of the evilest men in history. Being treated as less than human, he is ostracized most of his life and faces many external dangers, as well as an internal crisis of personal identity.
The relevancy of Farmer’s writing is haunting and ageless. Farmer’s expert world-building and duel use of English and Spanish create an unexpected sense of realism and make the book difficult to put down. With parallels to today’s issues of illegal immigration, drug regimes, and even the rapid advancement of technology, The House of the Scorpion transcends and redefines the traditional coming-of-age narrative.
Reviewed By: Erin Koehler