Nancy Farmer's latest novel for young people depicts a chilling vision of the future - a world where clones are reared so that their organs may prolong the lives of the favoured few, and other unfortunates have computer implants inserted into their brains to render them utterly submissive. Far-fetched? Maybe; but Farmer writes so convincingly that such a world seems dreadfully possible. The story is set in a timeless future where El Patron has supreme control over Opium, a stretch of land between the USA and what used to be Mexico. The country's economy depends on drugs, and El Patron has dragged himself up from the gutter to a position of unassailable authority. But El Patron is 148 years old and his life is ebbing away. It is time to breed another clone to provide the essential body parts to keep him going for a few more years. Matteo Alacran is that clone, but it is not until he is six years old and meets some of El Patron's family, that he learns the truth about his background, how he was cultivated from a piece of El Patron's skin, and incubated inside a cow. Brought up by his devoted surrogate mother Celia, Matt has only ever known affection, but all that is set to change - as a clone he is reviled and abused as the lowest of the low, despite the apparent protection offered by El Patron. Matt finally confronts the truth about El Patron's motives in keeping him alive, and realizes he must escape or die. Yet Matt flees only to find himself in even greater danger. Relying on only his native wit and the new friends he has acquired on the way, Matt is finally able to confront the truth about his past and look forward to the future with renewed hope. Profoundly disturbing, and almost too convincing, this is a captivating read which also raises serious moral and ethical questions. This is science fiction as 'science faction' - the reader cannot put this book aside and say, with any conviction, 'that could never happen'. Farmer has already established a considerable reputation as a children's author, winning several awards and commendations; this novel will introduce this exciting writer to a wider readership, and earn her the increased recognition she so richly deserves. Ages 13+ (Kirkus UK)
Matt is six years old when he discovers that he is different from other children and other people. To most, Matt isn't considered a boy at all, but a beast, dirty and disgusting. But to El Patron, lord of a country called Opium, Matt is the guarantee of eternal life. El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself - for Matt is himself. They share the exact same DNA.
As Matt struggles to understand his existence and what that existence truly means, he is threatened by a host of sinister and manipulating characters, from El Patron's power-hungry family to the brain-deadened eejits and mindless slaves that toil Opium's poppy fields. Surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards, escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But even escape is no guarantee of freedom… because Matt is marked by his difference in ways that he doesn't even suspect.