My favorite book reviews are negative. They rip apart books dumb enough or unoriginal enough for me to hate, written by a best-selling or critically acclaimed novelist. But since I want to avoid winding up on a blacklist, I will henceforth only post positive book reviews. Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion fits the bill.
Fresh, original premise, sympathetic and strong protagonist, fast pace, tight plot, great setting and characters, scintillating dialogue, serious underlying themes, all wrapped in a light young adult package. The House of the Scorpion has it all. Go read it.
Need more encouragement? Let's see. I picked up this book from my local library because the back cover blurb sounded interesting. It's about the teenage clone of a drug lord/dictator, set in a future where mind-altering drugs and human slavery are legal in North America. I wondered how a young adult author would handle such weighty topics. I figured the protagonist would stay ignorant throughout most of the novel, until (HORRORS!) he figures out the evil around him (sugar-coated evil, of course), and easily escapes.
Nope. Nancy Farmer stays authentic to the situation. Matteo suffers the best and worst childhood imaginable, full of unique details that bring to life a high tech, futuristic dictatorship located in northern Mexico. Nothing comes easily for him, least of all, escape. Not only must he deal with the sinister implications of being a clone, but he's the pampered clone of a particularly feared and hated tyrant. He must figure out the secrets kept around him in order to survive, and he also has to navigate a tough world of criminals, child labor, drug trafficking, and communist ideologues. And somehow, Nancy Farmer managed to weave a romantic subplot in all that danger!
Seriously, this novel is adventure, science fiction, romance, action, coming of age, and adult themes, all rolled into one. Go read it!
(P.S. -- Don't read the Wikipedia article unless you want spoilers.)