21 November, 2010

Book Review: The House of the Scorpion

The House of the ScorpionImage via Wikipedia

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Publisher: Richard Jackson Book: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Science Fiction/Realistic Fiction
Page Count: 380
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Cover Rating: 3.5 out of 5. All right; the scorpion matches the book's plot, and it matches the cover, but I think that it's a little too dark. A more vibrant red and a darker black would have made it stand out a little more.

Inside flap:

At his coming-of-age party, Matteo Alacran asks El Patron's bodyguard, "How old am I? . . . I know I don't have a birthday like humans, but I was born."
"You were harvested," Tam Lin reminds him. "You were grown in that poor cow for nine months and then you were cut out of her."
To most people, Matt is not a boy, but a beast. A room full of chicken litter with roaches for friends and old chicken bones for toys is good enough for him. But for El Patron, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy fields lying between the U.S. and what was once called Mexico--Matt is a guarantee of eternal life. El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself for Matt is himself. They share identical DNA.
As Matt struggled to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister, grasping cast of characters, including El Patron's power-hungry family. He is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards and by the mindless slaves of Opium, brain-deadened eejits who toil in the poppy fields.
And escape from Alacran Estate is no guarantee of freedom because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect. Around every turn in his vivid, futuristic adventure is a new, heart-stopping surprise.

My expectations: Since it won the Newbery Honor, the Printz and National Book Awards, I expected a lot from it. That expectation was lowered a bit though, when I read the review by Ursula K. LeGuin on the back--I'm not a fan of her writing, and the statements she makes, like "children who are ignorant and vulnerable" and "powerful evildoers who no one can pity"--for one thing, I don't like characters who are "ignorant and vulnerable" and I like my evildoers complex and challenging to understand, not just powerful and evil, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, my expectations based on the three awards were not met.

About the book: Most books have something that they explore, whether deeply or lightly; something like friendship, love, sadness, grief, loss of life, etc. Usually, by the time I've finished a book, I can pinpoint that factor, or I can at least get a general feeling out of the book.

But with this one, I struggled to grasp the meaning that Nancy Farmer was trying to convey--or if there was any sort of moral in the first place. After thinking and discussing it, I think the meaning of this book has to do with individuality; and that would definitely work with something written from the perspective of a clone.

Yet, I still have mixed feelings. There were other factors that didn't jive with it being about individuality alone; I would not say that it's pointless, but I just couldn't get what Farmer was trying to say. Le Guin, in her review, mentions that it is ". . . science fiction that doesn't rely on violence as the solution to complex problems of right and wrong." Is Farmer trying to avoid violence entirely, and that's her point? Possible. This book made me think--hard. It's a good book in that sense.

  • Plot:

Interesting. It was spectacular, but it worked; the ending was all right, but it was a little too light for the previous events. I expected it to end in a less-pleasant way, and it felt artificially satisfying. I won't spoil it for you, but I felt that the ending could have ended up being stronger, or at least a little more realistic.

  • Characters:
Matt, the clone, was a naive character. I don't like naive characters; if there's one factor of a MC that annoys me, it's naivete. But I liked Matt--I felt sorry for him, and his problems, since they weren't his fault in the least and the things he experienced were cruel.

Maria was a headstrong, defiant girl. She got pushed back from her more central as she got older over the years, and I would have liked to see her older; however, she was a good character.

Tam Lin is one of those characters who's wise, in an almost accidental way. Matt pays a lot of attention this man; he learns a lot from him. Tam Lin is a fascinating character, a mix of different things; out of all of them, he was one of the most intriguing and stunning.

  • Setting/Elements:

I wasn't sure of what to think about the drug empire between the USA and Mexico. It's an interesting take on what our future might be like in North America, especially since I've never read a book incorporating such a theme.

The science was portrayed almost in a cruel light, I have to say that. I've noticed that a lot of books seem to portray science as being cold and unethical, with scientists doing things just to see if they work without thinking about the possible consequences. For one thing, not all scientists are like that--at all. That's another thing I did not like about this book.

Other: Cruelty, drugs, some references (some sexual, mostly violent/mean).

Do I recommend this book? If you want something that will keep you wondering what the point of it is, then yes, I recommend this book. I do not recommend this book, however, if you're looking for a light read--give yourself time if you're going to read this book and take in the entire scope.

-----The Golden Eagle
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Cinette said...

A very interesting review; I like your honesty and straight-forwardness. I'll see if the library has this one.

DEZMOND said...

I do love the tittle of the book!

Old Kitty said...

What a thoughtful and honest review!! Thank you!!! It actually makes me want to read this!!! I think it's the ambiguity you see that interests me!!!

Thanks again!! Take care

Donna Hole said...

Sounds like a complex book, one every reader will have a different experience with.

I'll put it on my TBR list; I enjoy books with complicated plots.


The Words Crafter said...

Hey, I've read this one! Like you, I had mixed feelings. There were parts that seemed like it could really turn into something. Then, it would either fall flat or get tangled up with other things and just leave me wondering 'why?'

Jackee said...

Thanks for your honest review. :o) I've seen this one and wondered about it. Now I know!

And I too hate it when I set high expectations for a book and then feel like it didn't deliver.

Debbie Curran said...

That's a great review! A couple of things stood out especially for me - the scientists being portrayed as evil or unethical was a big one. Thanks for the honest review!

Misha1989 said...

I love the sound of the book. Thanks for the review!I think I will give this book a try.

Sangu said...

This sounds intriguing and your review definitely covers all the points I would have been curious about. I find this book particularly intriguing because I write about a similar subject, so I might definitely have to pick it up!

Jules said...

I'm stopping by to say thank you for the lovely comments recently. Sure was chicken soup for the soul. :)

Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Brian said...

It does sound like a pretty confusing one to me!

Jen Daiker said...

I'm going to have to look into this! I'm intrigued, even with those who've had mixed feelings!

Anonymous said...

A very thorough review. I agree in that naive characters are difficult to like and respect. I think the MC needs to grow into a resourceful, quick thinking, innovative person. Perhaps they didn't start that way, but in the end they need to learn how to overcome obstacles that would be impossible at the beginning of the story.

KK Brees said...

I'm not all that fond of scorpions - they sort of creep me out - especially after I stepped on one in my friend's home in Arizona. Thoughtful review, though. Nice job, Golden Eagle.

....Petty Witter said...

You were harvested - sounds like a chilling sort of a read, thanks for the recommendation and a very honest review.

Jen Chandler said...

Thanks for your honest review of this book. I've seen it on the shelves but have never picked it up. It sounds very complex and thought provoking. I like dark books...maybe I'll pick it up one day. It doesn't sound like something I have the energy for at the moment, though.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds frustrating to me. Guess winning awards doesn't guarantee a great book.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Thanks for the review. It's interesting that even it didn't measure up the awards.

N. R. Williams said...

Goodness. I saw the cover and thought this was going to be a slam dunk. I won't read this one. Thank you for such an in depth review.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

The Golden Eagle said...

Cinette: If they have it, I hope you enjoy reading The House of the Scorpion!

DEZMOND: It's a good one!

Old Kitty: Happy reading, then! :)

I'm not a big fan of ambiguity, myself; I like it when there's a definable point to a book.

Donna Hole: Yes, I agree that different readers would come away with a different message. Complex novels do that--that's one of the things I enjoy about them, even if the book as whole isn't my thing.

Thanks for coming by! :)

The Words Crafter: Cool! Someone else who's read it!

It that to me as well. There were all these different influences and things happening--I had trouble figuring out "why?"

Jackee: You're welcome!

Yup, now you know a little more about it.

It's a disappointment . . . but then again, there are those books which don't seem like they'll be any good but actually are.

Debbie: It's not scientists specifically; more like the overall scientific aspect itself. Like some of the bad things could be connected back to science.

You're very welcome. :)

Misha1989: Hope you enjoy it!

Sangu: It's fascinating to find books that are in the same kind of genre as your own, isn't it? I found that with a book I read recently.

Jules: You are welcome. I wish you luck in finding your way through the crossroads. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Brian: It is, unfortunately.

Jen: I hope that you can figure it out where I couldn't. :P

Stephen: A character should definitely develop; the MC in this book grew a little, but not, I think, into his full potential. Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped . . .

KK Brees: There aren't that many physical, crawly scorpions; just pictures. I would be a little nervous of them, too, if I'd stepped on one! Ouch, that must have hurt.

I'm glad you like the review!

Petty Witter: It was chilling in parts.

You're welcome! :)

Jen: Dark books appeal to me, too; but the reader does need energy to read one. They take something out of the reader.

Alex: It was.

No, I guess they don't; but this book does stand out in its own way, and I guess the award committee (or whatever it is) decided that's what they were looking for.

Holly: You're welcome for the review! Yes, I was intriguing as I read it, that a book like that could win three awards.

Nancy: Too bad it wasn't!

I'm glad my review was helpful, Nancy! :)

jewelknits said...

How disappointing; seeing all of those awards DOES rev up expectations. I think they need to throw some real, everyday readers onto those panels!

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

The Golden Eagle said...

That would be a good thing! Get someone who hasn't worked in the business for a while . . . and have them judge whether or not it should receive the award.