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Children's Literature Reviews
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The house of the scorpion
Nancy Farmer.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
Sample text
Table of contents only
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2002.
380 p. ; 24 cm.


In a future where humans despise clones, Matt enjoys special status as the young clone of El Patrón, the 142-year-old leader of a corrupt drug empire nestled between Mexico and the United States.

Best Books:

Booklist Book Review Stars, Sep. 15, 2002 ; American Library Association; United States
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2002 ; American Library Association; United States
Capitol Choices, 2002 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2002 ; Children's Literature; United States
Choices, 2003 ; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States
Core Collection: Character Education In YA Fiction, 2006 ; American Library Association; United States
Great Middle School Reads, 2004 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, July 1, 2002 ; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2003 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2003 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books, 2002 ; Cahners; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, July 1, 2002 ; Cahners; United States
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2003 Supplement, 2003 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2003 ; American Library Association; United States
Young Adults' Choices, 2004 ; International Reading Association; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

ABC Children's Booksellers Choices Award, 2003 Winner Young Adults United States
Arizona Young Readers' Award, 2005 Winner Teen Book Arizona
Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award, 2003 Winner Children's Literature United States
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Winner Best Bet to Win the Newbery Medal United States
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Winner Favorite Novel of the Year United States
Great Lakes Great Books Award, 2004 Honor Book Grades 6-7-8 Michigan
John Newbery Medal, 2003 Honor Book United States
Locus Award, 2003 Finalist Best Young Adult Book United States
Michael L. Printz Award, 2003 Honor Book United States
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature, 2003 Finalist United States
National Book Award, 2002 Winner Young People's Literature United States
Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2005 Winner Young Adult Nevada
Parents' Choice Award, 2002 Recommended Fiction United States
Rhode Island Teen Book Award, 2004 Winner Rhode Island
Sequoyah Book Award, 2005 Winner Young Adult Oklahoma
South Carolina Junior Book Award, 2006 Winner South Carolina
Thumbs Up! Award, 2003 Honor Book Michigan
Volunteer State Book Award, 2005 Winner Young Adult Tennessee
Young Hoosier Book Award, 2006 Winner Middle Grades Indiana
Young Reader's Choice Award, 2005 Winner Grades 10-12 Pacific Northwest

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, 2008 ; Nominee; Illinois
Arizona Young Readers' Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Teen Books; Arizona
Battle of the Books, 2011-2012 ; Nominee; Intermediate; New Mexico
Beehive Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Utah
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Colorado
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Colorado
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Vermont
Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Indiana
Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Washington
Florida Teens Read, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Florida
Flume: NH Teen Reader's Choice Award, 2006 ; Nominee; New Hampshire
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Fiction Grades 6-8; New Jersey
Gateway Readers Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Grades 9-12; Missouri
Great Lakes Great Books Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Michigan
Iowa Teen Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Iowa
Isinglass Teen Read Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; New Hampshire
Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Louisiana
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Minnesota
Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Nevada
Nutmeg Children's Book Award, 2006 ; Nominee; Teens; Connecticut
Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Pennsylvania
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Illinois
Rhode Island Teen Book Award, 2004 ; Nominee; All Teens; Rhode Island
Sequoyah Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Oklahoma
Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Wyoming
Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2006-2007 ; Nominee; Wyoming
South Carolina Junior Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; South Carolina
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; South Carolina
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2003-2004 ; Texas
Voice of Youth Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; 7th and 8th Grade; Illinois
Volunteer State Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Tennessee
Wisconsin Battle of the Books, 2012-2013 ; Wisconsin
Young Hoosier Book Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Middle Grades; Indiana
Young Reader's Choice Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Grades 10-12; Pacific Northwest

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Discussion Guide at Multnomah County Library
Link to Reading Guide at

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Upper Grade
Book Level 5.1
Accelerated Reader Points 15
Accelerated Vocabulary

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 660

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 6
Title Point Value 23
Lexile Measure 660


Sally Estes (Booklist, Sep. 15, 2002 (Vol. 99, No. 2))
Young Matteo (Matt) Alacran is a clone of the original Matteo Alacran, known as El Patron, the 142-year-old absolute ruler of Opium, a country separating the U.S and Aztlan, once known as Mexico. In Opium, mind-controlled slaves care for fields of poppies, and clones are universally despised. Matt, on El Patron's orders, is the only clone whose intelligence has not been blunted. While still quite young, Matt is taken from the loving care of El Patron's cook and placed into the abusive hands of a maid, who treats him like an animal. At 7, brought to El Patron's attention, he begins an indulged life, getting an education and musical training, though he is never allowed to forget that he is not considered human. Matt doesn't learn until he is 14 that El Patron has had other clones, who have provided hearts and other organs so El Patron can go on living. This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful, story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story, in which a boy's self-image and right to life are at stake. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2002, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Richard Jackson, $17.95. Gr. 7-10. Starred Review

Susie Wilde (Children's Literature)
Even the book's format begins with a difference that cues you into the foreign futuristic world it portrays. Chapters are arranged oddly; Youth covers 0-6 and Middle Age is 7-11. Family trees and cast lists do little to help in the beginning, though referral to them makes sense all the way along. And then the story begins with an embryo planted in a cow, a young child kept apart. It is all so confusing and it should be, for Farmer has dropped us into a futuristic world that is so cruel it needs to be revealed only bit by bit. Matt is the main character, the beloved protected by an older cook, Celia, who refers to him as mi vida. But she can't always care for him and cruelty lurks around every corner. When he comes out of hiding he is kept like an animal in a straw room, until his presence is revealed to El Patron, a powerful drug lord. Matt comes to discover that he is the ancient man's clone, Matteo Alacran. Bit by bit the favored boy discovers that, at birth, most clones become "eejits," a person or animal with an implant in its head. Matt is lucky enough to have the care of Tam Lin, an ex-revolutionary who, we discover later, has fled capture to work for El Patron. Matt is determined to escape his clone stereotype. He is brilliant and musical and decides "he would excel, and then everyone would love him and forget he was a clone." Would it were so! It becomes clear that the ancient El Patron at 130 is failing and "he seemed dark and dangerous, like a creature you might stumble on in the middle of the night." Matt is not favored for any of his gifts. He finally learns the truth. "You were grown in that poor cow for nine months and then you were cut out of her. You were harvested. She was sacrificed. That's the term they use when they kill a poor lab animal. Your stepmother was turned into ruddy T-bone steaks." Finally, Matt escapes across the boarder to what he hopes is a kinder world. It is little better. Farmer's future world has little gentleness. The second land is less developed than the first, but together these worlds provide a chilling picture. 2002, Atheneum, $17.95. Ages 11 up.

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2003)
There is much for older children, teens, and adult to think about and discuss after they read Nancy Farmer's disturbingly believable imaginings of life 100 years from now. Young Matt lives in Opium, a small country tucked between the United States and Aztlan (known today as Mexico) where drugs are the sole product, exported around the world to great economic profit for Opium's leader, El Patron (not to mention the two neighboring governments). When he is six, Matt discovers he is the clone of the 130-year old El Patron. Clones are considered subhuman creatures, and the only reason Matt has not been subjected to a life of torture and inhuman treatment is that El Patron insists his clone be treated with the same respect he himself is due. As he grows, Matt begins to learn how Opium functions -- how people who are captured trying to cross the border -- human traffic between Aztlan and the United States now runs in both directions as people seek a better life -- are implanted with a microchip that turns them into ijits, mindless automatons who work the opium fields until they literally drop dead. He sees how El Patron leads with a cold heart and iron fist, but feels a confused kind of love for the old man with whom he shares the closest imaginable physical bond. But under the guidance of Celia, the older woman who has cared for Matt since he was a baby, and Tam Lin, one of El Patron's body guards who has been assigned to help protect the him, and with the help of Maria, the young daughter of a U.S. senator who often visits El Patron and his family, Matt begins to realize that even though he IS El Patron, he has the free will to choose the kind of person he will be. Whether he will ever get to execute that free will becomes a chilling question when Matt discovers he is not being groomed to take over the leadership of Opium as he thought. All the care and education that El Patron ordered for Matt was nothing more than the old man creating the childhood he never had. Matt's fate will be the same as the eight El Patron clones that came before him -- provide the old man's failing body with organs to survive. A finely crafted work of science fiction that is unsettling, provocative, and hard to put down. Winner, CCBC Printz Award Discussion; Honor Book, CCBC Newbery Award Discussion. CCBC categories: Fiction For Children; Fiction For Young Adults. 2002, A Richard Jackson Book / Atheneum, 380 pages, $17.95. Ages 11 and older.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 13))
Matt Alacrán has spent his youth secreted away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as a beast by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a fantastic adventure in a land called Opium, a strip of land between the US and a place once called Mexico. Opium is ruled by El Patr-n, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by "eejits"-docile farm workers controlled by brain implants-and overseen by an army of bodyguards. Farmer's tale is a wild, futuristic coming-of-age story with a science-fiction twist: How do you find out who you are when what you are is a clone-a photograph-of a human being. How have you come to exist, and for what purpose? Can you ever expect to be more than what you were designed to be? As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons' hoards, and killing fields, Matt's story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans. 2002, Richard Jackson/Atheneum, $17.95. Category: Fiction. Ages 11 up. Starred Review. © 2002 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Paula Rohrlick (KLIATT Review, September 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 5))
In a future world where an evil empire called Opium is tucked in between the U.S. and Aztlán (formerly Mexico), a young clone named Matt comes of age. His foot is tattooed "Property of the Alacrán Estate"; he is the clone of El Patrón, the cruel 142-year-old ruler of Opium, a drug kingdom farmed by "eejits," brain-dead clones. Matt has not has his brain deadened; he is a favorite of El Patrón, reminding him of his lost youth, though the man's nasty, conspiring family hates Matt, considering him "livestock." Matt's other champions are a cook and a bodyguard, who conspire to save him from a fate of being harvested for organs for El Patrón. A girl named María comes to love Matt, too, and when El Patrón dies and the remaining family try to kill Matt, all his friends work to help him escape from the Alacrán estate. Matt runs off to Aztlán but is captured and taken to an awful orphanage, which is more of a Nazi-style work camp. There he makes friends, helps incite a rebellion, and is thrown into a bone pit and almost dies. He escapes, finds María, and returns at last to his inheritance, the Alacrán estate, with plans to undo the evil of El Patrón. This is a long but engrossing SF adventure by the Newbery Honor-winning author of A Girl Named Disaster, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, and other books for young readers. Farmer grew up in Yuma, Arizona and evokes the landscape of this Mexican border area beautifully. Matt is an appealing hero, despised by many for being a clone but noble and brave in the face of the many hardships he encounters. He learns to value himself, ignoring the opinion of others, and comes to understand that he has the power to make change for good. This will appeal to adventure story lovers as well as SF fans. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 400p., $17.95. Ages 12 to 18.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Farmer's (A Girl Named Disaster; The Ear, the Eye and the Arm) novel may be futuristic, but it hits close to home, raising questions of what it means to be human, what is the value of life, and what are the responsibilities of a society. Readers will be hooked from the first page, in which a scientist brings to life one of 36 tiny cells, frozen more than 100 years ago. The result is the protagonist at the novel's center, Matt—a clone of El Patrón, a powerful drug lord, born Matteo Alacrán to a poor family in a small village in Mexico. El Patrón is ruler of Opium, a country that lies between the United States and Aztlán, formerly Mexico; its vast poppy fields are tended by eejits, human beings who attempted to flee Aztlán, programmed by a computer chip implanted in their brains. With smooth pacing that steadily gathers momentum, Farmer traces Matt's growing awareness of what being a clone of one of the most powerful and feared men on earth entails. Through the kindness of the only two adults who treat Matt like a human—Celia, the cook and Matt's guardian in early childhood, and Tam Lin, El Patrón's bodyguard—Matt experiences firsthand the evils at work in Opium, and the corruptive power of greed ("When he was young, he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other... most of his branches are twisted," Tam Lin tells Matt). The author strikes a masterful balance between Matt's idealism and his intelligence. The novel's close may be rushed, and Tam Lin's fate may be confusing to readers, but Farmer grippingly demonstrates that there are no easy answers. The questions she raises will haunt readers long after the final page. Ages 11-14. (Oct.)"

Erin Nita Miller (The ALAN Review, Spring/Summer 2003 (Vol. 30, No. 3))
Looks can be deceiving. Though he has grown up in relative isolation, young Mateo Alacràn looks like a normal boy of six. Yet on the day he meets his first outsiders, he discovers he is anything but a normal boy. He is a clone. In a futuristic world in which clones are despised by humans and used only for medical purposes, Matt is an exception. He carries within him the DNA of the powerful drug lord El Patròn, and therefore, is treated to the finest life and education. As he grows and learns, he attempts to reconcile his love for El Patròn with the evil world the man has produced, a world in which millions of humans and animals are turned to zombies and many clones are slaughtered for their organs. Guided by a few friends who love and watch over him, Matt must summon the courage to flee to safety after El Patròn's death, and the compassion to return and attempt to change the drug kingdom forever. Farmer presents a fresh look at the coming of age theme in her futuristic and controversial world of clones and zombies. Despite a rather hasty and almost simplistic ending to the novel, the plot is engaging, and the characters are well developed and sympathetic. High school students will connect with Matt as he grows from a frightened little boy to a young man who wrestles with difficult issues and decisions. Category: Science Fiction/ Coming of Age. YA--Young Adult. 2002, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 380 pp., $17.95. Ages young adult.Wheaton, IL

Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 2002 (Vol. 56, No. 3))
Accustomed to a cozy and insular life with only his foster mother, six-year-old Matteo Alacrán is stunned by his encounter with the outside world, which results in the discovery that he is a clone, considered to be a “good-for-nothing animal.” It turns out, however, that he’s the clone of El Patrón, the ruler not just of his huge multigenerational household but of the region of Opium, the drug-driven land that divides the United States from Aztlán, its southern neighbor. Protected by El Patrón, Matt flourishes despite the abhorrence and plotting of almost all of El Patrón’s household; with the help of a few allies, he grows to be a confident teenager with the hidden hope of succeeding El Patrón and perhaps even marrying his friend María, the daughter of an American senator. When El Patrón sickens, Matt discovers that his confidence has been misplaced: he’s not a beloved ready-made son but merely a well-treated source of spare parts, and he’s going to be sacrificed so that his superannuated progenitor may use Matt’s young heart, as he has used the organs of other clones before Matt, to keep living. If Matt wants to live, he has to flee beyond the only realm he’s ever known. As in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (BCCB 3/94), Farmer creates a complicated fictional world that is both plausible and original. The slow and uncertain evolution of Matt’s awareness is dramatically effective and psychologically credible, and it brings with it a rising suspense. The book does ramble off track occasionally--there’s a lot of convenient eavesdropping for plot advancement, the final portion of the book (where Matt struggles in a work camp in Aztlán) squanders some of the narrative tension, and a key and repeated plot point is unfortunately dependent on a scientific inaccuracy (since fingerprints are not determined solely by genetics, Matt’s fingerprints would not be identical to those of El Patrón). A book of this size and generous imagination, however, can afford to fall short occasionally as it establishes its elaborate vision, and this is overall a dramatic and compelling narrative. Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2002, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2002, Jackson/Atheneum, 380p, $17.95. Grades 7-10.

Marsha Harper (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 15, No. 4))
Nancy Farmer has written two Newbery Honor Books: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm and A Girl Named Disaster. The House of the Scorpion is also a Newbery Honor Book, a Michael Printz Honor Book, and has become a National Book Award finalist. Clearly this writer is one to reckon with. House is a large, sprawling science fiction novel that covers three countries: the U.S., Aztlan (formerly Mexico), and a buffer state between the two known as Opium for its primary crop. The novel also covers five generations of the Alacran family, descendants of Matteo Alacran (El Patron), the lord of Opium who has found a way to achieve immortality by cloning himself and using the clones for spare parts. The empire he has created provides a luxurious lifestyle for his family at the expense of an army of servants and "eejits," humans with altered brains who can do nothing unless they are given specific orders. The hero of House is Matteo Alacran, one of El Patron's clones, who knows nothing about himself or his fate. When he begins to understand what is happening, he makes a break for freedom and succeeds against all the odds. Complex issues of economics, technology, politics, and especially ethics are woven through an intricate plot rife with secrets, deceptions, intrigue, cruelty, and greed. Matteo has only his quick wits and the help of a very few friends to help him find a way to survive. Farmer has created a bleak, inhumane world but has not left out human values that eventually triumph--we think. Bleak--but exciting! This is an absorbing read. Fiction, Highly Recommended. Grades High school and up. 2002, Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 380p, $17.95. Ages 14 up.

Michael Levy (VOYA, October 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 4))
Matt is a clone. More importantly, he is the clone of El Patrón, the aging, half-mad, and overwhelmingly powerful drug lord who rules over Opium, a private fiefdom that runs along the border between a future United States and Aztlan, the former Mexico. Legally, clones are animals, and most are turned into zombies at birth, produced only to provide spare parts for the rich. Matt, however, has been well taken care of by his progenitor and given the benefits of higher education. Still, he is treated with disdain or open disgust by the rest of El Patrón's aristocratic and seriously warped family. The only people who seem to consider him human are Celia, El Patrón's cook; a bluff security guard named Tam Lin; and Maria Mendoza, the daughter of a corrupt U.S. senator whose family regularly visits Opium. As Matt matures, he learns more about his progenitor's evil drug empire and the population of zombies that support it. He also learns that his own life might be in danger. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Farmer's powerful and tightly focused narrative changes direction abruptly; Matt flees Opium, crosses the border into Aztlan, and finds himself trapped in a grim re-education program run by corrupt government officials who preach something akin to Maoism while running their own illicit drug operation. This novel is slightly marred by a happy ending that comes too quickly. It is otherwise enormously powerful and may well win Farmer further award nominations. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Atheneum/S & S, 400p, $17.95. Ages 11 to 15.


Cloning Fiction.
Science fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.F23814 Ho 2002
2001056594 [Fic]
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