Thursday, March 22, 2007

"All Clones go to Pieces in the End"

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Winner of the 2002 National Book Award, Young People's Literature
A 2003 Newbery Honor Book
A 2003 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Mateo Alacran isn't like other boys his age. Because he was "harvested" from a cow. Because he's a clone. But Matt isn't just any one's clone, he's the clone of El Patron, dictator of Opium, the country that lies between the United States and Aztlan (formerly Mexico). Growing up in the "Big House" reviled by almost everyone around him, Matt grows up unaware of his true purpose in life.

This was a long read, but well worth the time involved. I would definitely recommend it for older teens and up (adults can gain alot from reading the book, despite the adolescent protagonist).

Nancy Farmer
brings up remarkable questions of ethics and morality. In the future society that this book takes place clones are reviled as being inhuman. Legally they must be incubated in a cow and "harvested" so that they can be classified as live stock and not as people. Most clones (all except the clone of El Patron, because he is above the law in his own country) are given an injection which blunts their intelligence, making them little more than vegetables, which further lowers their value in the mind of others. Despite having all of his intelligence (and an amazing musical talent) Matt is still treated as sub-human. Wonderful discussions can be had about the meaning of being human. Particularly after Matt's beloved bodyguard reveals the secret "Do you know what the difference between a clone a human is? Nothing."

All of the work in Opium (the harvesting of poppy plants and other drug plants) is done by "eejits." That is workers who have an implant in their brains turning them into zombies that can only act on orders. An eejit will die of thirst standing in front of a glass of water if no one gives him the order to drink.

El Viejo (the Old One, and El Patron's grandson) dies of natural causes while El Patron has lived to the ripe old age of 143 due to fetal implants in his brain and other procedures which keep him alive. El Patron and other aristocrats like him see nothing wrong with using science, technology, and other living creatures to this end. El Viejo is called "the only good man in this family. He took what God gave him, and when God told him it was time to go, he did it." El Patron considers his grandson a fool.

When Matt finally sees the outside of the Big House and Opium that world is not much better. Indoctrination takes the place of brain implants to create docile workers who will follow orders and never complain.

Farmer's narration is rife with wonderful descriptions that bring the countries of Opium and Azatlan to startling reality. She relies heavily on word-for-word repetition of earlier portions of the book. This may be good for younger readers who may not remember particular conversations and passages, but for older readers it was a bit too much.

Characters like Tam Lin, Matt's bodyguard; Celia, Matt's foster mother; Jorge, an Aztlan Keeper; Tom, Maria, and other members of the Alacran family will spur many more discussions.

Highly recommended.

Other Books by Nancy Farmer:

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
The Sea of Trolls
A Girl Named Disaster

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Even My Life So Far Has Been Plain"

How I live Now

Daisy is sent to live with her aunt and cousins in England though she has never met them before. At first she thinks it will be horrible being on a farm after growing up in a New York City apartment. But she feels an instant connection with her cousin Piper and even deeper feelings for Edmund. Shortly after her aunt leaves on business, terrorists invade England and war breaks out. Alone on the farm the children are able to live how they want with no rules and no adults telling them what to do. What could be better? Their Eden-like existence is interrupted when the army takes over their farm.

Meg Rosoff, doesn't pull any punches in showing the horrors of living through a war, with famine and death all around, but because Daisy herself is telling the story everything is kept very age appropriate to the older teen readers. The relationship that develops between Daisy and Edmond might be hard for some readers to grasp, especially younger ones, but as one teen said "you can't help who you fall in love with."

I liked the style of narration because it captures the voice of a fifteen year-old and the reader can see how the voice changes as Daisy does. Particularly at the end (I won't spoil it for you) when Daisy grows up there is a distinct difference in the writing style.

There are great discussions to be had with this book and teen readers. It is a thin volume and a quick, engaging read.

The paperback version also has a sample chapter of her next book Just in Case.

Monday, March 12, 2007


How do you catch a serial killer?

Go to the Library.