- The House of the Scorpion
The House of the Scorpion
First edition cover - late printing with Newbery Honor shields
Author(s) Nancy Farmer Country United States Language English Genre(s) Young adult, Science fiction novel, Dystopian Publisher Atheneum Books Publication date 2002 Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback) Pages 380 pp (first edition, hardback) ISBN ISBN 0-689-852223 (first edition, hardback) OCLC Number 48796533 Dewey Decimal [Fic] 21 LC Classification PZ7.F23814 Ho 2002
The House of the Scorpion (2002) is a science fiction novel by Nancy Farmer. It is about a young boy named Matteo Alacrán who is being raised by a drug lord of the same name, usually referred to by his assumed title "El Patrón" throughout the text. It is a story about the struggle to survive as a free individual. The numerous awards it has won include the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, and the Michael L. Printz Award For Excellence In Young Adult Literature. It was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book
The story takes place in the country of Opium, a strip of land between Mexico (now called Aztlán), and the United States. Opium, which is essentially an opium-producing estate, is ruled by Matteo Alacrán, also known as El Patrón. El Patrón's work-force consists of illegal immigrants whom the Farm Patrol (ex-criminals who are tempted with the offer of protection from the police) enslave when they catch them crossing the border in either direction. These illegal immigrants become "eejits", humans with computer chips implanted in their brains, making them more or less zombies who can perform only simple tasks. These "eejits" can only do things by a command. If an eejit is not told to stop doing its simple task, it will continue until it dies.
The main character Matt, is a clone of El Patrón, an incredibly powerful, 143-year-old drug lord who intends to take Matt's organs when his own organs fail. Matt was grown from a set of cells that were taken from El Patrón decades ago, then frozen. He was cultured in a test tube, then transferred into a surrogate mother when it became clear that he was going to survive. For the first six years of his life, he lives with Celia, a cook who works in El Patrón's mansion. One day, he is discovered by two children (Emilia and Steven). The next day they return, and bring Emilia's sister, María, who immediately captivates Matt. They observe him through the window for a while, but soon get bored and turn to leave. Matt is so lonely that he smashes the window and jumps out to follow them. Never having experienced pain before, he was unaware of the danger in jumping barefoot onto smashed glass. The children carry him to El Patrón's mansion to be treated. Though the people there act kindly towards Matt at first, a man passing by recognizes him as a clone.
For the next few months, he is treated as an animal by most of the Alacráns, and is locked into a room filled with sawdust for his "litter". The inhabitants of the Big House, meanwhile, are so disgusted by him that they have all moved to different wings of the mansion, as if they were afraid of contamination. However, María discovers where he is being kept, and informs Celia, who then passes the description of Matt's filthy conditions and abusive treatment on to El Patrón. El Patrón immediately punishes the maid who was in charge of Matt, gives Matt clothes and his own room, and commands everyone to treat Matt with respect. Matt is also given a bodyguard, named Tam Lin, who becomes a father figure to him. Still, everyone but Celia, María, and Tam Lin look upon Matt with ill-disguised revulsion, only hiding it when El Patrón is around.
Matt lives in the Big House for the next seven years. He and María quickly become friends, which gradually blossoms into romance. However, Matt is deliberately kept in the dark by everyone about his identity and purpose until a cruel joke reveals to him that he is a clone. Matt also discovers that all clones are supposed to be injected when "harvested" with a compound that cripples their brains and turns them into little more than thrashing, drooling animals. From then on, he studies and practices the piano with a vengeance, in a state of denial. In his heart, Matt already knows the reason for his existence, yet he convinces himself that El Patrón would not hire him tutors and go to all the trouble of keeping Matt entertained if he was intending to kill Matt in the end, and that El Patrón must want Matt to run the country once he was dead.
Alas, Matt's worst fears are realized: El Patrón has a near-fatal heart attack. Matt and María, who have by this time realized they love each other, attempt to flee in the ensuing chaos, but are betrayed by Steven and Emilia. María is taken away, and Matt is walked over to the Big House's hospital, where El Patrón at last confirms that Matt lived only to keep himself, El Patrón, alive in the end. At that moment, Celia reveals that she has been giving Matt carefully measured doses of arsenic, which, though not large enough to kill Matt, would certainly be fatal to one as frail as El Patrón; El Patrón becomes so mad with rage that he has another heart attack and dies. Mr. Alacrán orders Tam Lin to dispose of Matt; Tam Lin pretends to comply, and ties him to a horse and rides away to dispose of him. But instead, he gives Matt supplies and sets him on a path to Aztlán.
Arriving in Aztlán, Matt comes across a kind of penal colony for orphans. These orphans are called the "Lost Boys", and Matt is sent to live with them by a group of men known as the "Keepers," who are fervent followers of Marxism. The Keepers operate the plankton farms, forcing the orphans to do manual labor and subsist on plankton. The Keepers enjoy luxurious quarters and delectable food, claiming that this is fair because they "earned" the right to do so by working hard during their childhood.
Matt is at first an outcast because the other boys think he is a spoiled aristocrat. However, Matt becomes a hero when he defies the Keepers and leads the boys in a rebellion against them. Matt then flees with his friends among the Lost Boys. They struggle to the nearest city, San Luis, then go to the convent to find María and her mother, the politically powerful Esperanza.
Esperanza thanks the boys for giving her an excuse to charge the Keepers with drug trafficking: for years, everybody had known about it, but no one had sufficient evidence for a search warrant. Matt also learns that Opium is in lockdown. He manages to re-enter the country, but only to learn that almost no one he knew is still alive. El Patrón has died and he has caused the death of most of his subjects. Matt, who is El Patron's genetic heir, becomes the new ruler of Opium.
- Matt,short for Matteo is the protagonist in this story. He is the 8th clone of El Patrón. Being a clone, he was created so he could be used for transplants, later when El Patrón's organs failed. Though most clones had their brains destroyed at birth, El Patrón's clones lived like normal human beings until the need of El'Patrón's transplants. Matt, with Celia's help, managed to escape the horible fate of the 7 other clones and out-lived El'Patrón, becoming the ruler of Opium.
- Celia is the Big House cook and Matt’s caretaker. Celia is the mother figure in Matt's life, and protects him from the horrible truths about his purpose.
- El Patrón is a drug lord, born Matteo Alacrán, the ruler of Opium, and supposedly, the most powerful man in the world. He has lived for 148 years by harvesting organs from his clones, the last of which (and the only one who lived) was Matt. The Aztlános call him the old vampire of Dreamland (a metonym for Opium). El Patrón is the only one protecting Matt from the people who do not like Matt, but Matt soon finds out that El patron only wants him for his organs. El Patrón has a heart attack when Matt is 14, and demands Matt give him life in return for the life that he granted Matt. However, he is foiled by Celia. El Patrón is so enraged by her treachery that he immediately has another heart attack and dies.
- María and Emilia are the only children of Mr. Mendoza, who is an influential US Senator. El Patrón, who likes making powerful friends, frequently invites him to stays in Opium; consequently, María spends a lot of time in the Big House. She's around Matt's age and is his only friend, aside from Celia and Tam Lin. She treats him well even when no one else will, and unlike everyone else, doesn't see him as a filthy abomination. As they get older, they eventually come to the realization that they love each other.
- The Lost Boys are a group of boys whose parents were captured by the Farm Patrol while attempting to immigrate to the united states, and most likely turned into eejits. These boys are kept in Keepers' orphanage compounds in Aztlán and forced to work incessantly and adhere to Marxist principles, often punished for minor offenses, while the Keepers sit idle a percentage of their days, secretly involved in the resale of laudanum from Opium. Ton-Ton, Chacho and Fidelito are the Lost Boys who join forces with Matt and escape the Keepers with him.
- Alacráns are El Patrón's descendants. They include his grandson, Gustavo Alacrán, known to most as "El Viejo", his great-grandson Mr. Alacrán, and his great-great grandsons, Benito, Tom, and Steven.
- Mendozas are a US Senator, and his two daughters, María and Emilia. Mr. Mendoza is one of El Patrón's friends, and visits with his daughters frequently.
- Esperanza is Mr. Mendoza's former wife, and María and Emilia's mother. She walked out on them when María was five, and is the author of "A History of Opium", a book about the atrocities of Opium. A copy of this makes its way into Matt's hands through Tam Lin. From a page in the back of the book about the author, Matt deduces that Esperanza is politically powerful. When he's escaping Opium, Tam Lin orders him to seek out María in order to find her mother, Esperanza, who could probably help Matt.
- Eejits are illegal immigrants who have been caught by the Farm Patrol. They have computer chips inserted into their brains, which turns them into mindless, emotionless slaves. They are used to do simple tasks within the mansion and to harvest opium. Though most are captured illegal immigrants, some are people who angered El Patrón, such as Rosa, the maid that locked Matt in a room with sawdust and chicken wire and treated him brutally.
- Tam Lin is Matt's bodyguard and father figure. El Patron gives Matt a choice between Tam Lin and Daft Donald, his other bodyguard; Matt sees a "glint of friendliness" in Tam Lin's eyes and chooses him. Matt quickly bonds with Tam Lin, who teaches Matt to climb treacherous rock-faces and live for days in the wild. Tam Lin is later called back to El Patrón's side and leaves Matt with a cache of supplies in the hopes that when El Patrón decides to take Matt's heart, for his own, Matt will escape over the Ajo Mountains into Aztlán to seek out the convent of Santa Clara where María lives and attends school. All of El Patrón's bodyguards are wanted criminals, and Tam Lin is no exception: he was a Scottish nationalist who laid a bomb for the British Prime Minister that accidentally killed a bus full of 20 children instead. As atonement, he drinks wine he knows El Patrón poisoned, along with all of the other Alacráns.
- Daft Donald is a mute bodyguard who works for El Patron. He cannot speak because he got his tongue cut out. He was Tam Lin's accomplice in Tam Lin's little stunt as a terrorist. During El Patrón's wake, when the poisoned wine is brought out, Tam Lin tells Daft Donald not to drink. Obviously, everyone dies but him, and he seals the burial chamber off with a dynamite explosion. Daft Donald is the one who informs Matt what happened to everybody when Matt returns to the Big House.
The United States has lost its glory and its southwest region and is now a poorer "third-world" country. El Patrón claims that just as many people try to run to Aztlán from the United States as the other way around. It is mentioned briefly that Nigeria is now one of the richest countries in the world.
Used to be known as Mexico.
The plankton factory is near San Luis in Aztlán, on the desert left when the gulf of California dried up. It is a forced labor camp for all the Lost Boys of the area. Matt is held at the factory by the Keepers after he is transferred there from the original camp along the border. He then plans a rebellion to save himself and the rest of them.
The city Tam Lin tells Matt to go to to find the convent María is staying in. After escaping the plankton factory, Matt, Chacho, Fidelito, and Ton-Ton journey the five to ten miles to San Luis.
- National Book Award (U.S.), Winner, Young People's Literature category, 2002
- Newbery Honor, 2003
- Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, 2003
- Young Hoosier Book Award Middle Grades, 2006
- Nevada Young Reader's Award in the Young Adult category, 2005
- Senior Young Readers Choice Award, Pacific Northwest Library Association, 2004–05
- Buxtehuder Bulle, Germany, 2003
- Bay Area Book Reviewers’ Association Award for Children’s Literature
- ALA Notable Children’s Book
- ALA Best Book for Young Adults
- IRA Young Adults' Choices
- Sequoyah Young Adult Award
- Volunteer State Award, 2006
- Arizona Young Readers Teen Award, 2005
- South Carolina Junior Readers' Award, 2005-2006
- ^ "Locus YA Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_locus-ya_index.asp. Retrieved 2011-11-4.
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