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