At 16-years-old, Syd has years of debt to work off, just for being taken in by a public orphanage. He’s determined to keep his head down and not rack up anymore, but things aren’t so simple when you’re a proxy: life for a proxy means taking the punishments for your patron’s bad behaviour. When the recklessness of his spoiled patron, Knox, accidentally gets a girl killed, Syd is set to serve the lifetime in prison in his place. Instead, both boys end up on the run and the ensuing chase will determine the future, not only of the two boys, but of their city and its entire way of life.
‘A futuristic Whipping Boy‘ sounds contrived, but London’s execution of the idea is admirable: amongst a proliferation of dystopian futures, the proxy system is one of real coherence. The gap between rich and poor doesn’t just exist arbitrarily, but is continuously reinforced through accumulated debt, and the entire system is vividly rendered within a few chapters. Proxy wastes little time, and its short chapters and tense action scenes make it immensely readable.
Both Syd and Knox are compelling and complex characters, neither simply ‘victim’ or ‘abuser’. The mutual reliance and friendship developed between the two as Knox graduates from Syd’s hostage to co-conspirator is an engaging underpinning of the high-stakes adventure. It’s worth noting that Syd is gay and self-described as ‘brown,’ both traits under-represented among dystopian heroes, and gay actions heroes are long overdue in media generally. Being gay is part of Syd’s character—it informs his own thoughts and others’ interactions with him—but it isn’t an integral part of Proxy’s plot. What is integral is some serious biotech, a secret rebel movement, mercenary outlaws, a concept borrowed from Jewish theology (‘Yovel’, or Jubilee), and a lot of tightly-plotted action.
Proxy has a sequel (Guardian, released 2014), but the book has a satisfying, if somewhat open-ended, ending and could be read as a stand-alone.
Highly recommended, for ages 12 and up.
London, Alex. Proxy. New York: Philomen, 2012.
Alex London runs his own tumblr, where he regularly interacts with readers.
Download the first 3 chapters of Proxy for free here or see the mini-readalike under the cut, which has a few recommended reads based on some of Proxy‘s characteristics and elements.
Check out Alex London’s “4 Things I learned (and 1 thing I didn’t) while writing Proxy,” at Diversity in YA.
Proxy poster by Kolorgasm
Another dystopic action/escape/survival story with a partnership, but without a focus on romance:
“Incarceron — a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology — a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber — chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison — a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device — a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn’s escape is born…”
Action isn’t just for straight kids when the future looks rough:
Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
“Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The “Wolf-Men” were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider. After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town. Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.”
The tech isn’t just in your hands, it’s inside your hands:
Feed by M.T. Anderson
“For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.”