Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
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.
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.
- Matteo Alacrán is the clone of El Patrón, the lord of the country called
Opium, and lives in isolation until children playing in the poppy fields
discover him. Why is he so eager to talk to the children, after he is warned
against it? Why is Mariá especially attracted to Matt?
- Describe Matt's relationship with Celia. Why is she the servant chosen
to care for Matt? Celia snaps at Matt when he calls her mama. Then she says
to him, "I love you more than anything in the world. Never forget that. But
you were only loaned to me, mi vida." Why doesn't she explain the term
loaned to Matt? Celia really believes that she is protecting Matt by keeping
him locked in her cottage and ignorant about his identity. Debate whether
this type of protection is indeed dangerous for him. How does Celia continue
to protect Matt throughout his life on the Alacrán Estate?
- After the children discover Matt, he is taken from Celia and imprisoned
in a stall for six months with only straw for a bed. How might prison be
considered a metaphor for his entire life? Who is the warden of his prison?
Discuss the role of Mariá, Celia, and Tam Lin in helping him escape his
- Rosá describes El Patrón as a bandit. How has El Patrón stolen the lives
of all those living on his estate? Which characters are his partners in
evil? Debate whether they support him for the sake of their own survival.
Explain what Tam Lin is trying to tell Matt when he says, "If you are kind
and decent, you grow into a kind and decent man. If you're like El
Patrón...just think about it." Considering that Matt is the clone of El
Patrón, debate whether environment influences evil more than genetics.
- El Patrón celebrates his 143rd birthday with a large party. Though Matt
was "harvested," and doesn't really have a birthday, the celebration is for
him as well, since he is El Patrón's clone. How does Matt imitate El
Patrón's power when he demands a birthday kiss from Mariá? Discuss how El
Patrón encourages Matt's uncharacteristic behavior. Why is Mariá so
humiliated by Matt's demand? How does Matt feel the crowd's disapproval?
- El Viejo, El Patrón's grandson and the father of Mr. Alacrán, is a
senile old man because he refused the fetal brain implants based on
religious and moral grounds. Debate his position. Why does El Patrón
consider Mr. Alacrán rude when he mentions El Viejo's religious beliefs?
Celia is also a deeply religious person. How is this demonstrated throughout
- At what point does Matt realize that Tom is dangerous? He remembers what
Tam Lin had told him, "If you didn't know Tom well, you'd think he is an
angel bringing you the keys to the pearly gates." How does Tom mislead
Mariá? Discuss why Tom takes Matt and Mariá to see the screaming clones. How
is this a turning point for Matt and Mariá's friendship? Why does Celia feel
that Matt deserves the truth once he has seen the clones?
- What gives Celia the courage to stand up to El Patrón and refuse to let
Matt be used for a heart transplant? What does El Patrón mean when he says
to Celia, "We make a fine pair of scorpions, don't we?" Explain why she is
insulted by this comment.
- How does Tam Lin know that Matt's future lies in finding the Convent of
Santa Clara? Describe Matt's journey to the convent. What does he discover
along the way? Discuss Esperanza's role in helping Matt gain his ultimate
freedom -- to live as a human.
- Discuss the structure of the novel. How does it resemble acts and scenes
in a play? Why does the author include the Cast of Characters at the
beginning of the novel? Divide the class into five groups, and assign each
group a section to write as a one-act play. Take dialogue directly from the
book, and use a narrator to relate the story between speakers. Matt finds
order in the music of Mozart. Locate music by Mozart to use at the beginning
and end of each act.
- Have students design a family crest for El Patrón's empire. Discuss why
this crest may repulse Matt. Create an alternative crest for the Alacrán
family after Matt transforms the empire.
- Read about Cinco de Mayo and draw a parallel between the history of this
Mexican holiday and Matt's victory for rights and justice at the end of the
novel. Plan a Cinco de Mayo celebration that Matt might have after he breaks
down the empire of Opium. Include appropriate food and music.
- Mariá refers to Saint Francis throughout the novel. As a class, create a
picture book about Saint Francis that Mariá might give to Matt. Write an
appropriate dedication to Matt. How might the story of Saint Francis offer
hope to Matt?
- Dolly, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell,
was born on July 5, 1996, at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. She died by
lethal injection in 2003 at age six. Have students use books or the internet
to locate more information about Dolly and then write a brief paper about
the significance of her birth to science.
- Students may wish to read about how scientists are using cloning for
medical research today. Have them read opposing viewpoints regarding the
issues of human cloning at www.humancloning.org and
www.cloninginformation.org. Encourage them to debate the issues in class.
How is this becoming a political issue?
- Ask students who have read The Giver by Lois Lowry to stage a
conversation between Matt and Jonas. Have them discuss the community they
left, their decision to leave and their method of escape, the ethical and
moral issues related to human cloning in Matt's community, and the releasing
process in Jonas's community. Have Matt explain to Jonas why he returns to
Opium, and what he plans to do to transform the country.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced
in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services,
SC Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.