Saturday, May 31, 2014

"The House of the Scorpion (Matteo Alcran #1)" by Nancy Farmer

The Hook: Matteo Alacran wasn't born, he was harvested.

I received this book as a gift at a present exchange in junior high, and had relatively low expectations of the book, despite the prolific awards dotting its cover. This was my first brush with dystopia, and one of my first exposures to science fiction as well. I don't think I even knew to call it "dystopia" when I finished reading it, it wasn't until the Hunger Games were the rage that I knew this actually was one. That said, this dystopia is more sci-fi than the ones you usually find, as it deals mainly with clones and futuristic technology.

The subject of clones is both taboo and intriguing in our modern world, because we do have the capabilities to clone animals, and it has been shown that clones of mice live just as long as the originals. Much of the discussion is being made as to whether we should clone extinct animals and essentially resurrect them from the dead, though the chances are slim, and it hasn't yet been done. There have been claims that human clones have been made by a religious group called the Raelian Movement, but no proof has been offered. This book was published in 2002, and it's fascinating how far the science of cloning has evolved since then, and yet how little we hear about it now.

The Plot:
Matteo Alacran is a clone, one of the few that survived being incubated in a cow's womb, to be harvested and raised as spare parts for his master. Although his brain wasn't damaged, as they do to many other clones, he lives a sheltered life with Celia, a housekeeper, in a shack set in a field of poppies. Until one day, when kids stumble upon his shack, he decides he wants to play, and breaks free from his lonely shack.

I'd never considered how someone would treat a human clone until I read this book. I would've assumed a clone would be treated humanely, because it would be a human, but I suppose the treatment of Matteo in this book would be more realistic, as some people wouldn't consider him human. While skimming the book for this critique, one of the main questions that came to my mind was how would we define human, in a society where there are identical humans walking about? I would consider a clone like Matteo a human, because of the humanness of his emotions- he could feel lonely, angry, and content depending on his day. When he was in the shack alone during the days, he longed for company, and his wish was granted. With some of the other "human" characters, you kind of wish they weren't human beings.

When you read this book, you really wonder what the future holds. If human clones are made, will they be treated like animals or humans? While there is technology to clone specific organs, is it really ethical to do so, or for that matter, is it ethical to clone anything at all?

The House of the Scorpion is a book that continues to ask questions of its readers, despite it being more than a decade old sci-fi novel designed for young adults. The characters are ones you relate to, and though the setting is futuristic and foreign, it feels familiar. I read this many years ago, but I still remembered the tale of a clone named Matteo when I dusted my copy off to critique it, proving that among the many books I read as a teen, this one you won't forget.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a solid coming of age tale dealing with topics of justice and humanity.

Content: Mild violence and abuse, Scholastic suggests grade levels 6+, or roughly ages 12+

Page Count: 380 pages in my paperback edition

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