The House of the Scorpion

Nancy Farmer, 2002, 380 pgs.

YA science fiction

A National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and a Printz Honor Award. Holy cow, there are so many awards on the cover that the reader runs the risk of setting his/her expectations too high. This is a big, sprawling, dystopian thriller—The Giver meets Harry Potter meets Holes meets Cormac McCarthy meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It takes place in the future on a strip of land on the Texas / Mexico border. Matteo Alacrán, also known as El Patrón, the drug lord over this opium estate, captures and computer chips people who attempt to cross the border so that they become zombie-like “eejit” slaves who will tend to his fields and manufacture his crop. The narrator is young Matt, El Patrón’s clone, who has been created to . . .(SPOILER ALERT). . .supply organs to the boss when his own fail.

Matt is scrappy and good, and gets into many epic adventures. People treat him badly, and he suffers much. He has a rag-tag group of “Lost Boys” who follow him as he escapes over the border into Mexico. He has a true love.

The northern Mexico of the future is called “Aztlán” here—is this not offensive to Chicano/a readers? Farmer, born in 1941, seems to be a white super-progressive Californian; is it okay for caucasian writers to use a place name that has such deep ancestral and spiritual roots for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans?

I found the book tedious. The world Farmer creates is not nearly as fascinating and rich as Harry Potter’s world, nor is the long-winded family saga as compelling as those of Marquez. The gritty borderland atmospherics cannot come close to McCarthy. But the pacing, characterization, and tenor is very similar to Holes, and I guess this is where I confess that I am not a lover of young adult fiction. I think I need to learn that this style of writing is quite fitting in terms of meeting the cognitive development and attentional needs of younger readers. It is just not my thing as an adult reader.

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