Already a big fan of Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm, when The House of the Scorpion came out in 2002, I sat down at Barnes & Nobles to speed-read all 380 pages in one sitting while my parents did their Costco shopping. Wolfing a book down is no way to read, but I remember leaving the bookstore in a chilled daze that had nothing to do with the strong air conditioning. Clones grown in cows’ stomachs, a criminal empire controlled by a man who wants to live forever, people made obedient to the point of automation–The House of the Scorpion was unlike anything I had ever read.
Fast-forward eleven years, where futuristic dystopias are a dime a dozen, and Scorpion still holds up brilliantly. Its world is unkind and full of secrets, as six-year-old Matteo Alacrán discovers when his isolated but comfortable existence under loving Celia’s care is shattered by the public realization that he is El Patrón’s clone. Reviled by El Patrón’s family and household, life as the ruthless drug lord’s clone does have its privileges, such as El Patrón’s keen attention, a first rate education, and a canny bodyguard named Tam Lin. In return, Matt adores the old man and wants desperately to prove himself as worthy of taking over the family business as El Patrón’s natural born heirs–even as he uncovers secret after damning secret concerning El Patrón’s empire, true nature, and plans for Matt’s future.