The House of the Scorpion

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The House of the Scorpion Book Poster Image
Gripping, gritty sci-fi tale of a clone's identity struggle.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The House of the Scorpion discusses cloning and raises important issues about immigration, bioethics, and drug policy. It encourages readers to think about what it means to be human and about the rights that should be afforded to everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.

Positive Messages

The House of the Scorpion emphasizes the worth of every human being, no matter his or her education or economic circumstance. Genetics are not destiny. A person has the ability to make choices different from the mistakes of their immediate families.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although treated terribly by almost everyone around him, Matteo maintains his essential human decency. He is a clone of an indisputably evil man, but he has the free will to be kind and compassionate, risking his own safety for the protection of his weaker friends.

Violence

There is some violence in The House of the Scorpion, although most of it occurs "offstage." One child character tortures frogs and drugs a girl's dog. Matteo and his fellow orphans are beaten with a cane when they disobey their Keepers in Aztlan, and they eventually fight back. An incident of mass murder is described, but without too many disturbing details.

Sex

Matt has a crush on Maria, but their intense friendship does not have time to develop into a romance.

Language

The language in The House of the Scorpion is extremely mild, with few instances of anything stronger than "heck." Some characters use the made-up word "crot" or "crotting" as a kind of impolite intensifier.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In The House of the Scorpion, Matthew's benefactor, El Patron, raises, manufacturers, and distributes opium. At least one character in the household is addicted to laudanum, a medicinal form of the drug. Adults smoke and drink at various celebrations, but the younger characters do not partake.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nancy Farmer's Newbery Honor Book The House of the Scorpion is a thoughtful science fiction coming-of-age story about the clone of a drug lord struggling to be free and establish his own identity. Set mostly in a drug-growing no-man's land between the United States and what once was Mexico, it raises interesting and important questions about immigration, bioethics, and drug policy. The story involves a character who raises, manufacturers, and distributes opium, and at least one character in that man's household is addicted to laudanum, a medicinal form of the drug. There are some violent episodes, but they are not bloody. A child tortures frogs and drugs a girl's dog. Orphans are beaten with a cane and eventually fight back. A mass murder is described without too many disturbing details. And use of any language stronger than "heck" is extremely rare.

User Reviews

Adult Written bymakarioslisa November 13, 2015

Your Kids will Love this Book

This is a very appropriate book for students who are 12 years old and up. I am a mom of four teens and a 7th grade teacher. I am also a Christian. This book... Continue reading
Adult Written byceebo625 October 11, 2014

you will be wowed at how near flawless it is

I normally never read but we were assigned it freshman year (im now a junior) i was completely blown away. But to savor and understand the details you should at... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byreadqueen June 17, 2013

amazing book

i was very slow to come by this book, because it just did not seem like my type of book. I finally pick it up, and realize that i can not put it down. This boo... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLuke Starkiller February 23, 2016

Gripping in a very quiet way

While children under 12 could probably still read this book, there are so many nuances that only older tweens and teens will "get." And it's the... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in the near future, when a narco-state called Opium separates the U.S. and what used to be Mexico, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION follows Matteo Alacran as he grows up in the household of his \"benefactor,\" the drug kingpin known as El Patron. Nearly everyone hates Matteo because he is a clone, harvested from the DNA of El Patron, but there are a few individuals -- a bodyguard, a cook, the daughter of a U.S. senator -- who treat him kindly. Over time, Matteo begins to understand how El Patron runs his business and the terrible toll it takes on anyone who tries to escape into the U.S. With that understanding comes a realization of his true status within El Patron's severely dysfunctional family, and Matteo must decide how to escape the fate planned for him.

Is it any good?

This is a gripping, gritty science fiction coming-of-age story that won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was named both a Newbery and Printz Honor Book. Matteo's struggle to build an identity for himself beyond that of a detested clone is both harrowing and poignant. Narrated across the protagonist's childhood, the plot maintains a high level of suspense without straining credulity. Author Nancy Farmer creates a rich cast of well-rounded characters, where even the most despicable figures reveal their vulnerable, human sides.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why cloning is such a popular theme in science fiction. What might be the consequences of cloning human beings? What kinds of rights should clones have?

  • What are some of the reasons that compel people to leave their countries of origin and live illegally elsewhere? What are immigrants expectations?

  • Should drugs like opium, marijuana, and cocaine be decriminalized? Would that lead to less drug abuse and violent crime?

Book details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love science fiction

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate