Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Atheneum Books, 2002. Print.
Mattéo Alacrán lives in Opium, a country that borders the United States to the south and Aztlán, formerly Mexico, to the north. Mattéo is the highly protected clone of the powerful, one hundred and forty year old drug lord and ruler of Opium, El Patrón. As a little boy, Mattéo loves El Patrón, even as everyone in Opium, including El Patrón’s family, cowers in fear of the old man. The House of the Scorpion follows Matt on his journey to discover who he is and why he was created, as well as the terrifying methods that El Patrón uses to keep all the inhabitants of Opium under his tyrranical control.
Nancy Farmer (also, author of The Ear, The Eye and The Arm) exhibits, in this novel, a perfection of timing. The House of the Scorpion is the perfect balance between beautifully detailed descriptions of character and setting and action. Building suspense with each turn of the page, Farmer keeps this almost 400 page novel moving smoothly, without imposing artificial excitements or leaving loose ends. Perhaps, more importantly from a teacher’s point of view, Farmer’s novel touches on a variety of weighty and provocative themes, including what it means to be human, the responsibilities of a society to the people who create it, the influence of nature vs. nurture on the personality of a human being, the ability of greed to corrupt and the opportunity to make good or bad decisions. Matt’s movement from the world of Opium to that of Aztlán may also provide a great opportunity for comparing and contrasting the social structures of each society and each society’s treatment of its citizens.
I would not hesitate to include this book in teaching a utopia/dystopia unit.
I highly recommend this book, and will probably try to incorporate it into literature circles in my own classroom. I would recommend this book for middle and high school students, 6-12.