The House of the Scorpion
By: Nancy Farmer
Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?
Sometimes you read a book and realize that it is good. Sometimes your read a book and realize that it is important. And sometimes you read a book and find that it is both. I'm lucky enough to say that I've stumbled upon a great many good and important books (The Help, The Great Gatsby, Little Women, Harry Potter, etc.) and The House of the Scorpion has now joined their ranks. This book addresses so many issues in such a heartbreaking and truthful way.
This is another book that I don't feel I can review adequately using my normal format, so we're going to do something different for this one.
This is the first dystopian book that I've read (or even heard of) that addresses what's going on in the U.S. through the lens of another country's problems. It's based in future Mexico and the bottom section of America (Texas, New Mexico, etc.). The world is built off of topics that are both problematic and relevant to life today. It discussed how immigration had affected the world and how drugs and the trafficking of them was addressed. Everything was so well executed in all of its world-building and was thorough in its explanations of everything.
There were a lot of details that I noticed that made the tone feel a lot darker. It's true that most of the people thought of Matt as nothing more than an animal, but I think that was heightened by the sheer amount of animal analogies that were used in this book. It drew an important contrast that the characters seemed to overlook, but that you as the reader could not. That being that Matt was so much more than an animal; he was a boy. A boy who loved and hated and played and messed up. A boy with a conscience and a soul. I think the point was that the characters that somewhere in themselves, but they allowed themselves to overlook the overwhelming evidence of Matt's humanity.
Another detail that made a big impact was the fact that El Patron calls Matt, "mi vida," because that literally means "my life." When Celia called him that it was because she loved him so much that he became her life. El Patron called him that because Matt was the prolonging of his own life. This nickname called attention to the other characters motives when it came to their relationships with Matt. It was masterful the way Nancy Holder let the reader in on things like this without ever having to directly point it out.
All of the supporting characters were wonderfully realistic as well. I loved Celia, Tam Lin, Chacho, and Fidelito. And I hated Jorge, El Patron, Felicia, and Tom. This book made you feel things for these characters. Their motives were always spot-on as matched up with their personalities. You could feel the malice radiating off of Tom, just like Matt could. You could sense Felicia's disgust of the world, just like Tom could. And the flawed and loveable characters were all just fantastic. Fidelito was probably my favorite just because he was so adorable! Chacho was great because he showed himself as a rough kind of guy, but then you realize he's more layered and loyal than he lets on. Celia and Tam Lin were amazing characters as well. One of my favorite moments was when Matt told Chacho and Fidelito that Celia and Tam Lin were his parents, because in nearly all regards, they were.
This book gives a really truthful and in depth look at socialism and aristocracy and humanity and friendship. It's a story of hope and love as well as hatred and fear. It's all the things that life is, and that is why it strikes the perfect realistic note for our future world.
"When he was young, he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other. He grew large and green until he shadowed over the whole forest, but most of his branches are twisted."
"I always say the truth is best even when we find it unpleasant. Any rat in a sewer can lie. It's how rats are. It's what makes them rats. But a human doesn't run and hide in dark places, because he's something more. Lying is the most personal act of cowardice there is."
"It's always a shock when a little lamb sprouts horns and turns into a bit, handsome ram. But it's a good thing, darling, really it is."
"That was the difference between her and everyone else, he thought. She was overflowing with life. Everything delighted or devastated or fascinated her. There was no middle ground."
"...a jailer has a hundred things on his mind, but a prisoner has only one: escape."
"...people's souls are like gardens...you can't turn your back on someone because his garden's full of weeds. You have to give him water and lots of sunshine."
"Tam Lin says rabbits give up when they're caught by coyotes...He says they consent to die because they're animals and can't understand hope. But humans are different. They fight against death no matter how bad things seem, and sometimes, even when everything's against them, they win."