The_House_of_the_Scorpion_Cover.jpgThe House of the Scorpion is a very thought provoking young adult novel. The story is set between the U.S.A and Aztlán (modern day Mexico), where a strip of land known as Opium lies. This land is named Opium for its main product. Opium is run by a 146 year old drug lord, known as El Patrón. The opium fields are tended to by illegal immigrants, known as eejits, who have computer chips implanted in their brains. This way they are confined to the fields and slavery. Matt is kept in a cottage on Alacrán estates, which is all he has known for the first years of his life. When he manages to get out, and goes to the mansion on the estate, he is treated like vermin. He soon finds it is because of the tattoo on his foot, "Property of Alacrán Estates". This means that he is a clone of El Patrón, and his purpose is to be raised healthy so that he can provide spare body parts for the original. The strange thing about Matt, and what sets him apart from other clones, is that his intelligence was not destroyed at birth, which is what happens to clones. Tam Lin, his bodyguard, helps him escape the from Opium, but this is far from the end of Matt's problems. He later becomes imprisoned in a harsh work camp in Aztlán for orphaned boys. There he leads a rebellion to save himself and all the other boys. The story uses our relationship with Mexico today as a basis for a future possibility. This future is bleak, but has a hopeful ending.

Nancy Farmer

Nancy Farmer grew up in Yuma on the Arizona-Mexico border, which is the inspiration for the setting of The House of the Scorpion.The geography is inspired by the Ajo mountains and El Patrón's mansion was inspired by Sanguinetti house. When she was a child there were lots of problems with drug imports and illegal immigration, so she felt inclined to write about these issues. In Yuma her family ran a hotel where she, as a young child, would run the front desk and handle many other responsibilities. Here she would stay up late at night listening to guests, who all consisted of cowboys, rodeo workers, railroad workers, and circus people telling stories. It was never her intention to become a writer, but this was a great beginning. Since Farmer became a professional author she has had much success. Farmer's honors include The National Book Award for The House of the Scorpion and Newberry Honors for The Ear,the Eye and the Arm, A Girl Named Disaster, and The House of the Scorpion. She is the author of seven novels, three picture books, and several short stories.

Important Ideas & Issues

Drugs: In The House of the Scorpion Alacrán produces drugs to sell abroad. Farmer wrote this book around the time that the U.S. was beginning the "war on drugs". Drug exports are how El Patrón made his entire fortune.

Pollution: A lot of the pollution in The House of the Scorpion is based on real things. The pollution in the Colorado River is real, and still exists at this moment in time. The pollution along the Mexican border is also a very sad reality today.The rivers are so poisonous there that they are dangerous to go into, but many people do in an effort to come to the U.S.

Immigration: The flow of immigration has stopped, but all immigrants become eejits. This is the way of handling immigration at this time, but it brings about many questions regarding the ethics of the situation. The eejits are all people who attempted to flee Aztlán (formerly Mexico) to go find freedom in the United States. The U.S. does nothing about it because it is not affecting them, and it has stopped illegal immigration.

Slavery: The eejits, who are formerly immigrants, are slaves to the poppy fields for the rest of their lives. They also are slaves to the opium empire in general. They are the property of El Patrón and Alacrán Estates.

Cloning: Brave New World was Farmer's inspiration for writing about the topic of cloning, but when she began writing the topic had many more implications that in Huxley's time. Farmer did a lot of reading about Dolly the sheep and discovered that it took 256 tries to create that one perfect clone. This raises issue of what to do with the ones that are deformed. They killed the sheep, but can you do this with a human baby just because it is deformed? Farmer has her own view on cloning that is definitely conveyed by the book. She stated in an interview, "I'm not actually against cloning as long as it's pretty near to flawless, because it's just like creating a twin. But at the moment, I think it's a really bad thing to try. Plus, why do people do it? It's a kind of vanity; it's the will to live forever." The will to live forever is exactly what El Patrón represents in the book. That is the reason that Matt, and all of El Patrón's previous clones even existed.

What it means to be human: The people surrounding Matt think of him as subhuman. Tam Lin is the only one who treats him as a human and tells him the truth about the difference between clones and "normal" people. Many others consider him as "livestock", due to the way that he was created.


The main debate surrounding this novel is focused on an entirely different subject, the genre. A lot of sources cite the book as being for the science fiction lover. One states that it is "a must read for SF fans." Others think that it can be categorized as a science fiction novel, but think of it as more of a coming of age novel. The reasoning behind this is that the novel follows Matt along his journey in life, and as the novel goes on we watch his ideas be molded by the people around him. We watch him grow from a boy to a man, even if he is a clone.
All critics agree that this is a very thought provoking story that has a great plot, and is a great read for most anyone. There are many current issues raised, and it offers an outlook on how some of those issues will be, in a way, resolved.


The House of the Scorpion raises a lot of questions to the reader, but I think the most interesting ones are what it means to be a human and the ethics behind cloning. In the novel all clones are produed the same way and grown in cows instead of humans. Yet, to me, this does not make the clone an animal or any type of livestock. I think that it just makes them a human that happened to be grown in a cow. Tam Lin said in the novel, "Here's the dirty little secret. No one can tell the difference between a clone and a human. That's because there isn't any difference. The idea of clones being inferior is a filthy lie." I believe Tam Lin had it all figured out. This is just another group that society is opressing based on lies. The other thing that really gets my mind thinking is the ethics behind their reasons for cloning. All the clones are made to either tend the poppy fields or grow human organs for transplants. They usually inject the clones so that their brains don't function properly, but does this make it right? If this makes harvesting clone organs ethical, then is it ethical to take mentally retarded people's organs? I don't think that this fixes the issues behind their reasoning. Yet, they did not inject Matt. El Patrón let him grow up as a normal child as his "gift" to him. I, and many other readers, believe that this is not a gift, but a curse. To believe that you are just a normal child, and to one day realize your true purpose in life is to keep a man that you think loves you alive is a curse. Matt, himself, also brings many other questions to the readers' minds throughtout the book. He leaves one wondering if the clone is truly like the original. He is extremely gifted in music and learns to play the piano quickly. This is a talent that no one else in the family posesses. He is truly a unique child and very few people around him are aware of that.

I would recommend The House of the Scorpion to any reader that loves good books. They classify this as a science fiction novel, but I am no science fiction lover. Nor am I a lover of coming of age novels. This is a great book by Farmer, and it is a very interesting outlook on what could become the future. This novel touches on so many modern day issues that it is truly relatable for anyone. The ideas surrounding drugs, immigration, cloning, and slavery are so realistic that you can't help but to think about how these issues are being handled right now.