The House of the Scorpion



Gripping, gritty sci-fi tale of a clone's identity struggle.

What parents need to know

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

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.


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.


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


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.

Not applicable
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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Nancy Farmer
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:November 2, 2001
Number of pages:380
Publisher's recommended age(s):11 - 17
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Awards:ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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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 book was incredible. the violence was a little bit rough at times, but it is nothing that an eleven or twelve year old could not handle. There was almost no language, and the romance was extremely mild. over all this book was amazing.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
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 least be 13... anyone under might not get it. Expect 10 uses "damn" and one use of "shit". Obviously there is drugs in it, it follows the clone of a 170 year old heroin lord. There are people who are forced to have lobotomys and a chip implanted to be used as slaves. But really after all the brilliance in the book you won't care. It's a MASTERPIECE.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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 has an intriguing premise and surprises along the way. It is a great read for adults as well. It does include drinking at a party (but the children do not partake), a character that is addicted to a drug, cloning, and a romantic friendship (although they never act upon their feelings). I would wholeheartedly recommend this title, and talk to my kids about what they believe would be a great way to solve our drug crisis around the world.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


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