The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer

January 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm (Young Adult Lit)

This book took the form of a dystopia, centered around a child-clone named Matt. Like “Big Splash”, “House of the Scorpion” dresses up adult problems in children’s bodies, and presents them through the eyes of child narrators. However, Matt Stevens in “Big Splash,” had a child’s, or at least  a young adult’s problems. He was looking for a lost parent, and wondering which one of two girls who liked him he should chose. Matteo from “HOuse of the Scorpion” flies by a child’s problems and fully engages with very adult problems of identity. He spends a large part of the narrative asking himself, “Who am I?” a problem made more acute by his status as a clone, and his dubious legal status. As a result of this he also spends a lot of time asking himself what it means to be human. With these child dystopias, (“Ender’s Game” came to mind pretty much constantly as I was reading this book) I have trouble believing that children can be picking up on all of the existential questions that are posed by the book. However, these questions don’t seem totally inappropriate either, given that children and particularly teenagers are struggling to figure out who they are and what they want their place in the world to be.

I also struggled with the end of the novel. As a reader, the wrap-up and tying up all of the loose ends was immensely satisfying, and also convient. However, there seemed to be several moments at the end that didn’t get the attention they deserved. What is the point of the Keepers, other than to establish a monolithic evil force outside the world of Opium? The Dia de los Muertos scene at the end seemed to be a missed oppportunity to create some kind of  real working symbolism, but ended up being mostly a gesture to Mexican culture. I think this novel is solid and thought-provoking but has a few problems of craft.

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