‘Don’t fix that one,’ said Lisa, hastily catching his arm. ‘It’s a Matteo Alacran. They’re always left intact.'”
Matteo is a clone, formed from human DNA and raised in the womb of a cow. Unlike other clones, though, his intelligence is not surgically limited: for a clone, he’s very fortunate, enjoying all the privileges of a real human, such as an education. This is because he’s the special clone of El Patron, the ancient lord of the country Opium. Opium lies between the United States and the former country of Mexico: a vast tract of poppies, eejits (computer-chipped slaves who work the fields), a set of terrifying bodyguards, and the powerful family of El Patron.
Clones, as Matteo slowly learns, are considered sub-human, monstrous, and only good for one thing: growing transplantable organs. As El Patron’s body ages and begins to deteriorate, Matteo’s organs will be harvested, and given to El Patron. This process has been repeated many times in the past, allowing El Patron to reach the age of 148. If Matt wants to live past his preteen years, he’s got to escape. Furthermore, if there is any hope for justice for the thousand of enslaved eejit workers, who are all captured illegal immigrants, Matt must face the sinister system that brought him into existence.
This near-future science fiction deals with issues of illegal immigration, drug empires, cloning, and what constitutes being a human. The action builds steadily, and spans various settings and many years, but never feels drawn-out or stretched. Nancy Farmer is also a genius at creating seemingly-impossible-to-escape situations, and then magically unraveling them with a plausible, but unexpected solution. Especially appealing for me is Matt’s gradual realization of the implications of being a clone: readers watch him develop a full consciousness of his identity throughout the book. This is great writing, friends!
I should mention that Farmer has already written two other Newbery Honor books, and they are also incredible. When I was ten, my best friend handed me her copy of The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, also written by Farmer. It’s one of those books I remember with startling clarity, because it shocked my childish brain, which until that point was only accustomed to the Bobbsey Twins and The Baby-sitters Club series, or perhaps the occasional abridged classic. (Does anyone remember the illustrated and abridged Hound of the Baskervilles?) Anyway, that was an amazing book, and this one is too! It won the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, and the Printz Honor, and it is an ALA Best Book, too! The front cover sparkles with all the medals, and the text inside will blow your mind.
Author’s website: http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse, 2002. 380 pp. Ages 11 and up.