Sunday, February 22, 2015

YA Guy Reviews... THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer!

In YA Guy's previous post, I said I review only those books I can recommend. And that's certainly the case with today's review of Nancy Farmer's THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION.

Not that Farmer's book needs my recommendation. It's a bestseller, a multiple-award winner (the Newbery Honor, the National Book Award, and the Printz), and, so I've heard, a movie-in-the-works. My older brother, who unabashedly admits he never reads anything but the sports page, read it and loved it.

And there's lots to love. The concept is intriguing: in a future drug empire carved out between the United States and the former Mexico, the drug lord Matteo Alacran (known as El Patron) creates a clone of himself, Matt, for unknown purposes. Told from Matt's point of view as the boy grows up in a society that treats clones as inhuman beasts, the story traces Matt's journey to manhood. The surrounding cast of characters--including the sympathetic bodyguard Tam Lin, Matt's surrogate mother Celia, and his playmate and social conscience Maria--are all well rendered; the science fiction world is wildly imaginative and, for the most part, coherent. I have no hesitation in recommending this book; chances are very high that you'll like it a lot.

But here's the thing: I didn't.

For all its strengths enumerated above, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION never caught fire for me. I didn't connect with Matt as I expected to, and I didn't find the narrative, whereby he discovers the evil machinations that lie behind his birth and his patron's empire, compelling. I recognized how well written the book is, and I completed it in hopes I would connect with it at some point, but I never did.

What does this mean?

Nothing earth-shaking. It simply means this wasn't the book for me. More broadly, it means that no matter how good a book is, no matter how worthy of recommendation--and remember, I am recommending this book, because I appreciate its strengths even if they didn't work for me--some people won't like it. That's just the nature of reading.

Those of us who are authors wish everyone would love our books as much as we do. We relish the positive reviews and feedback, and we cringe when the negative reviews come in. But we have to accept the reality that the reader-book connection is a very individualized and idiosyncratic thing; readers who might love a book similar to ours might hate ours, and vice versa. Or they might hate our book when they're fifteen then come back to it when they're thirty and love it. Or vice versa. There are too many variables involved to predict a particular reader's reaction to a particular book at a particular time, and so we'd probably be better off not trying.

We'd definitely be better off just writing. The reading part will take care of itself.

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