Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2003 Honor - The House of the Scorpion

This one, I couldn't put it down. I think I pretty much read it straight through. It was the day after Christmas guests left, and it was just me, the fireplace, the couch, and leftover Christmas candy. And The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer.

I like books that don't spew everything you need to know on the first couple pages; that is part of the deliciousness, letting the interesting and pertinent bits come as they will. And even though you will be a little ahead of Matteo in figuring things out, that's ok, because he is just a little kid.

This dystopian-shaded book is set in the future, not too far away, just far away enough so that some things have changed. The important one being the border area between The United States and Mexico. Finally the countries got fed up enough with trying to manage border security that they made a deal with the drug lords, and a new country, appropriately named "Opium" stretched in a narrow band all along the border. Opium handled border security far better than either of the countries above and below, and in the process ending up with enough workers to toil in their eponymous fields. The concession was that they would only peddle their wares to the eastern hemisphere.

But that is just the setting. What of the boy Matteo? Why is he so important, yet treated so strangely? What is his connection to El Patron, the 140 year old de facto ruler of Opium?  You'll see a glimpse in the short family tree printed at the prologue, but you won't understand all the meaning of that until you get a little further into the book.

At first I was dismayed by listing of the family tree and the summary of who the characters were, at the start of the book.  I don't like to have to figure out who everyone is before I am even motivated to do so, or to have all their relationships be so confusing that I need to keep flipping to where it's all mapped out. But never fear. A brief scan of the tree and then a few referrals are all that is needed. Once, I couldn't remember if someone was a cousin or other relative, but a quick check at the summary showed me she was only an acquaintance.

This is a book that I don't want to summarize, because you should enjoy the same pleasure I did in finding things out as they come along. But just a hint--if you like clones and "zombies", this will satisfy. One trait this book shares with some others I'm sure you have read is the jolt of the New Section, in this case called La Vida Nueva (The New Life). When you enter that, you will have the sense that it is another book, yet there is no time gap or style change between the two sections. You understand that he must leave in order to go back. He must endure other experiences before he can become a man. He must see things, understand other things, and The New Life brings that to Matteo.

I felt like the book could have spent a little more time handling the wrap-up of the new life, which circled back around, of course. It felt a little dizzying, the speed by which events happened. but perhaps since this is a young adult novel, it felt long enough to the author or editor by then. There is a sequel, which has good reviews, and I am interested enough in what happens to these characters and their situation that I plan on buying it.

I bought this book new on Amazon.

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