Friday, November 14, 2008

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Main character: Matteo Alacrán, a clone
Location: Opium, a stretch of land dividing Mexico from the United States
Time period: Some time in the future
Genre: YA Fiction, Futuristic, Dystopian Society

For as far back as he can remember, Matteo has lived with Celia in a little shack. He was never allowed outside, for there were monsters there waiting to snatch him up especially at night. Then when he is five, some children came to the shack and find him. They took him to the big house and make a big deal over him until they find the tattoo on the bottom of his foot that says "Property of the Alacrán Estate." Matteo is a clone.

Have you ever noticed that--without even trying--you will find a continuing theme in various books that you read at about the same time? I've got a little cluster right here dealing with identity and humanity, starting with Robin Wasserman's Skinned and Meg Cabot's Airhead. Now I run into the same theme here. Matteo has not been transplanted into another body like Lia and Em. Instead, he learns that he has been specifically created to provide organs for transplanting in case El Patrón needs them. He is not considered human--he is on a level with the farm animals.

How much of your identity is intrinsic and how much is the way people see and treat you? Lia thinks of herself as human though everyone around her sees a machine, and in time begins to see herself as something other than human. Em has her own memories and personality, but finds her body sometimes at odds--such as when it prefers tofu to ice cream. And because of the agreement her parents made, she has to assume the identity of Nikki Howard and at the end seems to have found a comfortable compromise. But they were both teenagers and had had their own life experiences before catastrophic events changed their lives forever. Except for his very early childhood, Matteo has been raised knowing he's a clone--even if he doesn't know exactly what that means. Among the household children, Tom actively bullies him, Stephen ignores him, but María accepts him as is. Among the adults, Celia protects him, El Patrón spoils him, and Tam Lin tries to teach him. But they all send out the message that he is different, that he is not one of them.

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