The House of the Scorpion

Opening line: ‘In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope.’

One of those droplets is Matteo Alacrán, the clone of the dictator of Opium. El Patrón is a drug lord, dictator, and lord of an empire that forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico (now called Atzlán). Nothing goes in or out of Opium without El Patrón’s knowledge; El Patrón never lets anything go. El Patrón is 134 years old.

Matteo knows that he is different. What he doesn’t know is how different he is.

You see those shiny things on the cover of The House of the Scorpion? Those are awards, and Nancy Farmer deserves every single one of them. This novel is so beautifully and poignantly written, the world so evocative, that my mind was turning over phrases and scenes when I wasn’t reading the book. I didn’t want it to end; in fact, it’s one of the few books that once I finish reading it, I go back through and reread sections of it, unwilling to let it go just yet. The summary I gave was purposely very sparse — it is better if you go into it knowing as little as possible. Just know that this is Young Adult Science Fiction at its best.

Earlier this week I read Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, an urban fantasy novel set in South Africa. I didn’t like it very much, but I wondered whether it was because I couldn’t identify with the setting. I’ve since handed it over to my Zimbabwean friend (who went to uni in South Africa) to see what she thinks. By the same token, I wonder if my love for The House of the Scorpion is influenced by my familiarity with the borderland of Mexico and the U.S. I grew up in South Texas; I’ve tasted most of the foods mentioned, know the legends of La Llorona and the chupacabras, heard the cadence of Spanish in my head. While I read it, I was in the desert where it is harsh and warm, instead of in Scotland, where it is cold and wet and windy, feeling like November instead of May. It was familiar. It felt like home.

Now, this isn’t to say that I have to be personally familiar with a setting to enjoy a book set in a certain place. I do read predominantly fantasy and science fiction after all — considering that most of the books I read are set in places that don’t actually exist, having to be personally familiar with a setting to enjoy such books is nigh impossible. It is more likely that I don’t like urban fantasy. It shows Nancy Farmer’s skill that she can recreate a setting with which I am so familiar and I still love it. Granted, it is a setting with which she is familiar, too.

After finishing it yesterday, I went online to see what other titles by Nancy Farmer I might want to read. To my surprise and delight, I found that there is a sequel to The House of the Scorpion coming out possibly later this year! Being as The House of the Scorpion was published in 2002, I wasn’t expecting there to be a forthcoming sequel. Be assured, I will be waiting in anxious anticipation.

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