The House of the Scorpion

Paperback | May 1, 2004

byNancy Farmer

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This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.

Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster—except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.

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From the Publisher

This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the U...

From the Jacket

This modern classic takes on an iron-fisted drug lord, clones bred for their organs, and what it means to be human. Winner of the National Book Award as well as Newbery and Printz Honors.

Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor books, including The House of the Scorpion; The Ear, the Eye and the Arm; and A Girl Named Disaster. Other books include Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. She grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border in the landscape she evokes so strongly in this novel...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.1 inPublished:May 1, 2004Publisher:Atheneum Books For Young ReadersLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0689852231

ISBN - 13:9780689852237

Appropriate for ages: 12


Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was okay. The author does a fairly good job at showing Matts personality. The reason I think this is because sometimes she makes Matt seem like a nice guy like at the end of the book when he says he’s going to get rid of the farm patrol and try to hire doctors to fix the eejits. The author also shows that Matt has a darker side that resembles El Patron and this is shown when Matt forces Maria to kiss him at his birthday and when he takes Marias dog and even threatens to kill it. She also does a good job of showing other characters personalities like how she shows that Celia is religious through indirect characterization by having Celia own a huge crucifix and a picture of Jesus with his heart pierced by five swords. I found the book to have a good plot. The only thing that I think is wrong with it is that it’s pretty easy to guess what’s going to happen next at some times so it doesn’t really keep you in suspense. My favourite thing about the plot of this book is that there is a lot of action so it’s entertaining. I think the intended audience is probably eleven or older. I think the ideal reader for this book is A teenager or young adult who likes science fiction books or books about utopian or dystopian futures. This book didn’t have an effect on me but it might have some overall effect on someone else who can relate to being alienated or discriminated against like Matt is when he’s hated and ignored by almost everyone he meets for the first fourteen years of his life for being a clone.
Date published: 2015-05-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad.. I'm not a fan of science fiction but i was surprised to find out it was more then that. It had mystery aswell. I liked how unique this book was, and it got really interesting at parts. But other parts i was bored. So overall, not bad. (even though i stopped halfway through it....)
Date published: 2011-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A series of ethical issues jumbled together to form something vaguely coherent. When I read the back plot summary of “The House of the Scorpion” and saw the various awards emblazoned on the cover, I had to admit, my hopes were reasonably high, despite it being a high school English novel and therefore more likely than not to be some sort of do-good message of individualism or life choices. Unfortunately, my hopes proved misguided, and this stereotype is indeed further reinforced with “Scorpion.” First and foremost, everything through chapters 26 to 36, a good third of the book, is so irrelevant to the central plot that had it not been for the main character’s name, I could have mistaken that section to be from a completely different novel. Nancy Farmer’s writing, while generally effective, never aspires to anything truly fantastic, especially in description, and many of the important facts feel conveniently tacked on at the times when they need to be known, lending to a feeling of chaos with regards to the plot’s planning. At the heart of the book, and its real strongpoint, are the ethical issues involved, and while many of these are intriguing, the choices are obviously presented as good, Matt, and evil, El Patron, which means the reader is likely to immediately default with the “good” side, rather than give full thought to the issues involved. Finally, the poison wine at the end of the book was an ill-hidden plot device that wrapped up the novel so quickly, I actually thought Farmer had gotten bored of writing “Scorpion” and had decided to publish the book half-finished, especially since she left numerous story arcs, particularly Tom’s, seemed unfinished. Ultimately, The House of the Scorpion is a piece of average writing only partially salvaged by its ethical questions, which unfortunately allowed it to pass as something far greater than it actually is to the likes of Newbery. As for Nancy Farmer, she’d be far better off writing philosophy than anything resembling this mess.
Date published: 2010-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A brilliant story. This was an amazing story, it was so unique, and unlike any book I have ever read. This book follows a boy named Matt, who was "harvested", his DNA came from a man named El Patron. From there the steps continued for Matt to be created, this book follows his life from age 0-14. I loved this book, Matt's life really makes you think of what the future holds for us, It was a brilliant story that had heart wrenching moments, and exciting parts as well, that only made you wish this book never ended. This story is one of a kind, I loved it from beginning to end. It's going to be one of those books that I will always remember.
Date published: 2009-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommend to Anyone This book is amazing and I would recommend it to anyone, even if you're not a fan of science fiction because this book is about so much more. The book is well written, and the main character is someone you can easily relate to. I picked it up on a whim a few years ago, and it has been one of my favourites ever since. I don't mean to be pushy, but READ THIS BOOK!
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! It was great! One of my personal favorites. I loved the little sequences of Romance and action and adventure. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Date published: 2007-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesomeness this book is great. I think people who don't enjoy reading a lot would like this book. Every page you read makes you want to read more. The book has a lot of intereseting ideas in it and the main character goes through a lot of adventures. Being a clone in this book it's really hard to survive especially when everyone around you thinks you're some kind of animal or beast. Matt overcomes all that through a lot of conflicts. It brought tears to my eyes when reading the lovely ending of this amazing book.
Date published: 2007-04-18
Rated out of 5 by from Recommended by Parents' Choice The House of the Scorpion is an enormous estate ruled over by the hundred -and- forty- year-old Matteo Alacran, also known as El Patron. This estate is part of a drug empire that lies between the United States and Aztlan (old Mexico.) Matt is the horribly lonely young clone of El Patron, despised by everyone except the cook who raised him and one of the bodyguards. Brilliant and educated by his "owner," Matt is under the illusion that he will someday take El Patron's place. Matt doesn't realize that he is only the latest in a series of El Patron clones, and that the reason the old man keeps him so close is so that he can harvest Matt's heart when his own wears out. Set in an ecolologically disastrous future (logically derived from present abuses), Matt is one of the loneliest protagonists ever. This highly original science fiction is a well-written heart-stopper - with a happy ending. For more details on the Parents' Choice Foundation, please visit
Date published: 2006-11-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it One of the only books that i read willingly from start to finish. It is a great story of a boy's life from birth. At first you can't tell what the book is discribing but latter on in the book you realize that matteo (the main character) is the clone of one of the most powerful men in the world, and that for some reason his brain was not destroyed like all of the other clones. After realizing the truth about his existance and what is to happen.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stung by the Scorpion Nancy Farmer has written a very impressive book here. With action packed story but bittersweet emotion that stings like a Scorpion, the story will hold you until the last page. The main character Matt is so fully formed in the text that the reader laughs and cries at his trials and adventures. Underlying politics are subtle enough that the reader is not overcome with social issues, but enough to touch on deep emotions; a very satisfying read.
Date published: 2006-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exquisite I can honestly say that this is the best book I have ever read, and that is not an easy accomplishment! The author allows you to intwine right into the lives of her charactars. The way she describes the setting allows me to mentally visualize the place exactly. This book is a keeper, do not pass up this oppurtunity to be as amazed as I was by this awesome book. I myself am an amateur author, and I positivly adore Nancy Farmer's abilities, and would love to chat with her on the subject of her books. I would love to read more of her books, but I dont think this one can be topped.
Date published: 2005-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterpiece Don't pass up this book! I have never been so involved with a book. Even though it's science just seems so real. It's by far, one of the best books ever made.
Date published: 2004-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from scary scorpions, a good book The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer’s book, The House of the Scorpion, was one of the best books I ever read. One of my favourite parts was when Fidelito, a small eight year old boy, and Ton-Ton, an older boy who is a keepers pet, save Matt and Chaco’s life. I found it very sad when Daft Donald, one of El Patron’s body guards, tells the story of how Tam Lin, Matt’s own body guard, and all the Alcrans died when they drank the wine El Patron had gotten at birth. Even though Tam Lin was the only one who knew the wine was poison he drank it and died. He was the only one who knew because he and Tam Lin were best friends. I was happy when Ton-Ton came along in the morning with Fidelito and saved Chaco’s life by pulling him out of the Bone Yard with the shrimp harvester. My favourite character was Fidelito. He was my favourite character because he was always so full of energy and was always so happy and proud of Matt. When Fidelito was little, his granny and he had lived alone. His granny was taken and turned into an eejit, a person with a computer chip in their brain so they won’t run away and they will always work, and he was given to the keepers.
Date published: 2004-11-22

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter 1: In the BeginningIn the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room.Water bubbled through tubes that snaked around the warm, humid walls. Air was sucked into growth chambers. A dull, red light shone on the faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass dishes. Each one contained a drop of life.Eduardo moved his dishes, one after the other, under the lens of the microscope. The cells were perfect -- or so it seemed. Each was furnished with all it needed to grow. So much knowledge was hidden in that tiny world! Even Eduardo, who understood the process very well, was awed. The cell already understood what color hair it was to have, how tall it would become, and even whether it preferred spinach to broccoli. It might even have a hazy desire for music or crossword puzzles. All that was hidden in the droplet.Finally the round outlines quivered and lines appeared, dividing the cells in two. Eduardo sighed. It was going to be all right. He watched the samples grow, and then he carefully moved them to the incubator.But it wasn't all right. Something about the food, the heat, the light was wrong, and the man didn't know what it was. Very quickly over half of them died. There were only fifteen now, and Eduardo felt a cold lump in his stomach. If he failed, he would be sent to the Farms, and then what would become of Anna and the children, and his father, who was so old?"It's okay," said Lisa, so close by that Eduardo jumped. She was one of the senior technicians. She had worked for so many years in the dark, her face was chalk white and her blue veins were visible through her skin."How can it be okay?" Eduardo said."The cells were frozen over a hundred years ago. They can't be as healthy as samples taken yesterday.""That long," the man marveled."But some of them should grow," Lisa said sternly.So Eduardo began to worry again. And for a month everything went well. The day came when he implanted the tiny embryos in the brood cows. The cows were lined up, patiently waiting. They were fed by tubes, and their bodies were exercised by giant metal arms that grasped their legs and flexed them as though the cows were walking through an endless field. Now and then an animal moved its jaws in an attempt to chew cud.Did they dream of dandelions? Eduardo wondered. Did they feel a phantom wind blowing tall grass against their legs? Their brains were filled with quiet joy from implants in their skulls. Were they aware of the children growing in their wombs?Perhaps the cows hated what had been done to them, because they certainly rejected the embryos. One after another the infants, at this point no larger than minnows, died.Until there was only one.Eduardo slept badly at night. He cried out in his sleep, and Anna asked what was the matter. He couldn't tell her. He couldn't say that if this last embryo died, he would be stripped of his job. He would be sent to the Farms. And she, Anna, and their children and his father would be cast out to walk the hot, dusty roads.But that one embryo grew until it was clearly a being with arms and legs and a sweet, dreaming face. Eduardo watched it through scanners. "You hold my life in your hands," he told the infant. As though it could hear, the infant flexed its tiny body in the womb until it was turned toward the man. And Eduardo felt an unreasoning stir of affection.When the day came, Eduardo received the newborn into his hands as though it were his own child. His eyes blurred as he laid it in a crib and reached for the needle that would blunt its intelligence."Don't fix that one," said Lisa, hastily catching his arm. "It's a Matteo Alacrán. They're always left intact."Have I done you a favor? thought Eduardo as he watched the baby turn its head toward the bustling nurses in their starched, white uniforms. Will you thank me for it later?Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer

Table of Contents



1. In the Beginning

2. The Little House in the Poppy Fields

3. Property of the Alacrán Estate

4. María

5. Prison


6. El Patrón

7. Teacher

8. The Eejit in the Dry Field

9. The Secret Passage

10. A Cat with Nine Lives

11. The Giving and Taking of Gifts

12. The Thing on the Bed

13. The Lotus Pond

14. Celia's Story

OLD AGE: 12 TO 14

15. A Starved Bird

16. Brother Wolf

17. The Eejit Pens

18. The Dragon Hoard

19. Coming-of-Age

20. Esperanza

21. Blood Wedding

22. Betrayal

AGE 14

23. Death

24. A Final Good-bye

25. The Farm Patrol


26. The Lost Boys

27. A Five-legged Horse

28. The Plankton Factory

29. Washing a Dusty Mind

30. When the Whales Lost Their Legs

31. Ton-Ton

32. Found Out

33. The Boneyard

34. The Shrimp Harvester

35. El Día de los Muertos

36. The Castle on the Hill

37. Homecoming

38. The House of Eternity

Bookclub Guide

A Simon Pulse Guide for Reading Groups The House of the Scorpion By Nancy Farmer ABOUT THE BOOK Matt is a clone of El Patrón, a powerful drug lord of the land of Opium, which is located between the United States and Mexico. For six years, he has lived in a tiny cottage in the poppy fields with Celia, a kind and deeply religious servant woman who is charged with his care and safety. He knows little about his existence until he is discovered by a group of children playing in the fields and wonders why he isn't like them. Though Matt has been spared the fate of most clones, who have their intelligence destroyed at birth, the evil inhabitants of El Patrón's empire consider him a "beast" and an "eejit." When El Patrón dies at the age of 146, fourteen-year-old Matt escapes Opium with the help of Celia and Tam Lin, his devoted bodyguard who wants to right his own wrongs. After a near misadventure in his escape, Matt makes his way back home and begins to rid the country of its evils. Prereading activity Ask students to write down their definition of science fiction. Then have them discuss the meaning of cloning. Have them debate whether a novel about cloning is by their definition considered science fiction. Discussion questions Matteo Alacrán is the clone of El Patrón, the lord of the country called Opium, and lives in isolation until children playing in the poppy fields discover him. Why is he so eager to talk to the children, after he is warned against it? Why is Mariá especially attracted to Matt? Describe Matt's relationship with Celia. Why is she the servant chosen to care for Matt? Celia snaps at Matt when he calls her mama. Then she says to him, "I love you more than anything in the world. Never forget that. But you were only loaned to me, mi vida." Why doesn't she explain the term loaned to Matt? Celia really believes that she is protecting Matt by keeping him locked in her cottage and ignorant about his identity. Debate whether this type of protection is indeed dangerous for him. How does Celia continue to protect Matt throughout his life on the Alacrán Estate? After the children discover Matt, he is taken from Celia and imprisoned in a stall for six months with only straw for a bed. How might prison be considered a metaphor for his entire life? Who is the warden of his prison? Discuss the role of Mariá, Celia, and Tam Lin in helping him escape his prison. Rosá describes El Patrón as a bandit. How has El Patrón stolen the lives of all those living on his estate? Which characters are his partners in evil? Debate whether they support him for the sake of their own survival. Explain what Tam Lin is trying to tell Matt when he says, "If you are kind and decent, you grow into a kind and decent man. If you're like El Patrón...just think about it." Considering that Matt is the clone of El Patrón, debate whether environment influences evil more than genetics. El Patrón celebrates his 143rd birthday with a large party. Though Matt was "harvested," and doesn't really have a birthday, the celebration is for him as well, since he is El Patrón's clone. How does Matt imitate El Patrón's power when he demands a birthday kiss from Mariá? Discuss how El Patrón encourages Matt's uncharacteristic behavior. Why is Mariá so humiliated by Matt's demand? How does Matt feel the crowd's disapproval? El Viejo, El Patrón's grandson and the father of Mr. Alacrán, is a senile old man because he refused the fetal brain implants based on religious and moral grounds. Debate his position. Why does El Patrón consider Mr. Alacrán rude when he mentions El Viejo's religious beliefs? Celia is also a deeply religious person. How is this demonstrated throughout the novel? At what point does Matt realize that Tom is dangerous? He remembers what Tam Lin had told him, "If you didn't know Tom well, you'd think he is an angel bringing you the keys to the pearly gates." How does Tom mislead Mariá? Discuss why Tom takes Matt and Mariá to see the screaming clones. How is this a turning point for Matt and Mariá's friendship? Why does Celia feel that Matt deserves the truth once he has seen the clones? What gives Celia the courage to stand up to El Patrón and refuse to let Matt be used for a heart transplant? What does El Patrón mean when he says to Celia, "We make a fine pair of scorpions, don't we?" Explain why she is insulted by this comment. How does Tam Lin know that Matt's future lies in finding the Convent of Santa Clara? Describe Matt's journey to the convent. What does he discover along the way? Discuss Esperanza's role in helping Matt gain his ultimate freedom -- to live as a human. Activities Discuss the structure of the novel. How does it resemble acts and scenes in a play? Why does the author include the Cast of Characters at the beginning of the novel? Divide the class into five groups, and assign each group a section to write as a one-act play. Take dialogue directly from the book, and use a narrator to relate the story between speakers. Matt finds order in the music of Mozart. Locate music by Mozart to use at the beginning and end of each act. Have students design a family crest for El Patrón's empire. Discuss why this crest may repulse Matt. Create an alternative crest for the Alacrán family after Matt transforms the empire. Read about Cinco de Mayo and draw a parallel between the history of this Mexican holiday and Matt's victory for rights and justice at the end of the novel. Plan a Cinco de Mayo celebration that Matt might have after he breaks down the empire of Opium. Include appropriate food and music. Mariá refers to Saint Francis throughout the novel. As a class, create a picture book about Saint Francis that Mariá might give to Matt. Write an appropriate dedication to Matt. How might the story of Saint Francis offer hope to Matt? Dolly, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell, was born on July 5, 1996, at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. She died by lethal injection in 2003 at age six. Have students use books or the internet to locate more information about Dolly and then write a brief paper about the significance of her birth to science. Students may wish to read about how scientists are using cloning for medical research today. Have them read opposing viewpoints regarding the issues of human cloning at and Encourage them to debate the issues in class. How is this becoming a political issue? Ask students who have read The Giver by Lois Lowry to stage a conversation between Matt and Jonas. Have them discuss the community they left, their decision to leave and their method of escape, the ethical and moral issues related to human cloning in Matt's community, and the releasing process in Jonas's community. Have Matt explain to Jonas why he returns to Opium, and what he plans to do to transform the country. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nancy Farmer is one of the most compelling voices in young adult literature. She received Newbery Honor awards for her books The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which also won the National Book Award and received a Printz Honor. Ms. Farmer grew up in Yuma, Arizona, where her parents ran a hotel near an abandoned prison. She spent her early adult life as a scientist, first with the Peace Corps teaching chemistry and biology in southern India; then seventeen more working in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where she met her husband. Ms. Farmer turned to writing after the birth of her son and has drawn upon her rich background. While she does not call herself a science fiction writer, Ms. Farmer explains, "Science fiction allows you to approach a lot of social issues you can't get to directly. If you wrote a book about how cloning is horrible, it would read like a sermon and no one would pay attention to it." Her latest novel, The Sea of Trolls, was published in fall 2004 and has received an impressive five starred reviews. The House of the Scorpion By Nancy Farmer 0-689-85222-3 A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers 0-689-85223-1 Simon Pulse National Book Award Winner Newbery Honor Book Michael L. Printz Honor Book ALA Notable Book BBYA Top Ten This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.

Editorial Reviews

“A story rich in twists and tangles, heroes and heroines, villages and dupes, and often dazzlingly beautiful descriptive prose.”