Originally posted on Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at ROPL.org.
At first glance, Nancy Farmer’s novel, The House of the Scorpion, is a coming of age story set in a traditional science fiction universe. And while it is very much a coming of age story, Farmer’s book is more than that. It’s a rather surprisingly profound look at what it means to be human.
The novel, set on the Mexico-US border, appears to take place in a world similar to our own. The story centers around Matt, a young boy who was created, rather than born. He is a clone, a fact we learn before we even begin reading the book. We follows Matt as he grows up, learning about his world as he does. As readers, we often get glimpses into the world around our characters, but this is not the case with The House of the Scorpion. What we know about the world Matt lives in is limited to what he knows. Though as the novel goes on, it’s clear that things are not as they seem and an observant reader can guess what Matt’s future might be.
But what really sets this novel apart is Farmer’s ability to make her characters change and grow before our eyes. As a clone, Matt isn’t allowed to do what normal kids do and he learns that people, humans and not clones, view him very differently than he’s always viewed himself. It is through the eyes of the people who despise him that Matt must fight to find himself. Farmer’s writing weaves intricate patterns throughout the text, mixing the horror of the lives of other clones, with the love of certain people in Matt’s life, to the risks his must take in order to survive. The House of the Scorpion is not without it’s faults, and parts of the ending seem to wrap up a bit too perfectly. But in spite of that, the novel is an exceptional work of young adult literature that addresses the question of what it means to be human — a question science fiction has been asking for hundreds of years.
Adults as well as teens will find much to like in this novel.