Books about Clones: A Double Feature

Quick note:  I recently read these two books back-to-back.  I had no idea they were both about clones; I just knew that both had gotten good reviews, so I checked them out.  It just so happened they were both about an obscure science fiction topic.  Go figure.

Never Let Me Go

Summary from Goodreads:  As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

My review:  Really great idea here–I love the fact that this is essentially sci-fi without any of the typical tropes and conventions of the genre–no flying cars or lasers here.  A book about kids who are raised for the sole purpose to be organ donors?  Very interesting idea.  It could have been really heavy-handed with the message, too, but Ishiguro never lays it on too thick.  However… I just didn’t love it. I appreciated it, but it didn’t grab me and slap me in the face.  I didn’t connect with any of the characters, and Kath’s narration, while I understand the point of it, just never clicked with me. She’s a very detached narrator, simply impartially telling the story while letting readers interpret all emotion from their side.  Interesting, but the impassivity made the book not as gripping as it could have been if told otherwise.

The House of the Scorpion

Summary from Goodreads:  Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?

My review:  This book has a great premise–it tells the story of a young boy who is the clone of a powerful drug lord. This is futuristic dystopia, but done in a really unique way. I really liked the setting and the plot setup–creating a drug country between the US and Mexico called Opium is a bold move in a young adult novel; however, I didn’t love the writing style. It felt a little too children’s lit for me, especially considering the intense subject matter.  And I wasn’t the only one confused by where this book fits:  it got a Newberry Honor (one of the top children’s book prizes), a Printz Honor (one of the top YA awards) and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.  Granted, that also means that it was a pretty good book; I just wish it would have come down more on the side of YA, and perhaps cut scenes from Matteo’s childhood.  The characterization in this book is definitely a positive point.  Matteo’s conflicted relationship with the 150-year old El Patron is complex and fascinating.  El Patron is a supremely evil dude, but he treats Matteo well in a world that devalues the lives of clones.  It’s also interesting how Matteo exhibits some of El Patron’s personality traits–is Matteo destined to become like the villainous El Patron?  The ending of this book felt a bit rushed, but apparently Nancy Farmer’s working on a sequel.  It’ll be interesting to see where she takes Matteo Alacran next.

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