Sunday, October 18, 2009

"The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer

Summary: Matt has always lived a sheltered life with his caretaker Celia, but at an early age he learns he's not human--he's a clone of the powerful drug lord El Patron. As a clone, Matt is reviled by all other members of the Alacran family except the young Maria. Over time, Matt learns the truth about why clones are created, the worker "zombies," and the world that has been created with the land of Opium dividing the U.S. and Aztlan (formerly Mexico).

Musings: This is my second Farmer book after The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm. I hadn't liked that novel much, but her name appeared on so many YA to-read lists, and I'd heard Scorpion recommended by several people, so I decided I'd give her another try. Unfortunately, this one wasn't much better.

Like The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, Scorpion's protagonist is a young and inquisitive male. However, in both books I felt absolutely no connection to the character. Matt's thoughts felt stale, and I truthfully was bored listening to him think. The dystopian society in which Matt is living is presented, but only half-heartedly explored. A miraculous happy ending was annoyingly unlikely, and Farmer throwing in a main character's death in the last few pages hardly added any emotional resonance.

Farmer also failed to explore much of the societal problems she introduces in this book. People fleeing from one country to another are captured and turned into "eejits" (zombies). The eejits are hated by regular people, and Matt feels bad about their situation, but otherwise this slavery is pushed aside.

Even more confusing was the introduction of a socialist-like mentality when Matt is trapped by the Keepers, men in charge of the work-orphanages in Aztlan. The boys are lectured on the dangers of individuality and the importance of group-work ethic. The Keepers' attempts at indoctrination are clearly supposed to be viewed as bad, but the reader is not told why they espouse this message. It doesn't seem like the rest of the country follows it (the few citizens of Aztlan we meet seem like normal, nice people). So why do these Keepers have so much power? Who's giving them the power? Is the government of Aztlan corrupt too (that didn't seem to be the case, but it was barely addressed)? What's going on with the U.S.?

Farmer has tried to create a certain view of society, but too many gaps existed in the world she created for the social commentary to make sense or deliver any message. Despite all the awards, I'm definitely done with Farmer's work.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to finally find someone else who had the same thoughts as I did on this novel! I saw the awards and cool cover and decided to buy it for my younger brother a couple of years ago at Christmas. He had mixed feelings, and passed it on to me. And I read part of it and eventually put it down. I couldn't stand it. But I also couldn't understand how I'd have such an intense negative reaction when obviously so many people (whose opinions I trust) loved it to death. I still don't understand, but I wanted to let you know that you're not alone in your opinion. And your assessment of the weak points is spot on. Great review!