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The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion

For Ages: 12 and up
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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.
  • Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books | 
  • 400 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780689852220 | 
  • September 2002 | 
  • Grades 7 and up | 
  • Lexile 660L
List Price $21.99

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Chapter 1: In the Beginning

In 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... see more

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Reading Group 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
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