*The following fanart belongs to their respective artists.
With the New Year of 2017 upon us, I thought I’d look at a certain book that’s caught my interest for a long while. I tried to read it here and there throughout the end of 2016, but I never got the time to write a proper review between other books and college exams to focus on. However, after having Christmas break and having some free time, I finally got to enjoy a book series that’s been said to redefine YA literature in more ways than one, and that is the first book by Alex London, “Proxy”!
But why is “Proxy” seen as different than any other sci-fi action novel, and a book so good that the awesome Marie Lu even calls it, “Off-the-charts amazing!” on the cover? Well, Alex London wrote into a book series two elements that hasn’t been seen in many other YA novels (especially action-adventures) in recent years: It’s a duology, not a trilogy, and it has a gay protagonist where his sexuality isn’t the focus of the story.
So what’s the background of “Proxy” then?
In the far future, the world is rebuild among the ruins of climate change and world wars. In what used to be the Rocky Mountains is the Mountain City, a mega-metropolis where class relations are heavily divided and cyberpunk capitalism is dominant to the point of clean blood being worth money and even being born poor means having huge debt for years to come. And in this world, the poor are assigned to the rich as a ‘proxy’. And as a proxy, they’re forced to be punished on the behalf of a rich patron whenever he/she commits a crime, from being tortured to hard labor, and all while the patron is obligated to watch the punishment in order to not experience it themselves.
And in this world of high-tech wonder, our main character is Syd Carton, a Chapter 11 (a term for homosexual) teenage proxy who doesn’t know his patron and works hard to clear the last two years of his debt in order to be free. He rarely buys products so he’d off the grid as much as possible, stays away from trouble and remains stoic in the face of danger in the slums.
However, all of that changes when Syd’s patron, a spoiled, sarcastic boy his age named Knox Brindle, is in a car crash that kills a girl in the process. Now, simple beatings won’t pay the debt for Knox. After being taken from his home and tortured, Syd manages to escape into the Upper City and (through a series of circumstances) take his very patron hostage in order to escape. At first reluctant to help an “ungrateful proxy”, Knox decides to help Syd out in his quest to escape in order to ease his conscious not just on his role of manslaughter, but for all the punishments his proxy’s had to endure.
Soon, they both learn that Syd’s importance to live goes beyond being just a simple proxy. Oh no. It’s something else, something that may change the whole system forever and ignite a revolution, a Jubilee that will erase all the debt and reform the system anew. However, it may come at a cost, one that both of them cannot and will not want to pay in full.
Similar to Kory Hedley from my “Waterways” review months ago, Syd Carton is a breath of fresh air when it comes to fictional gay (and African-American) characters in YA literature.
It may be hard to comprehend, but writing an LGBT character in literature isn’t as easy as it sounds, at least, if you want to make him/her/them stand out. One of my biggest fears as I began reading “Proxy” was that the portrayal of Syd’s sexuality would be as a stereotype or constant flirting. But no, Alex London’s writing didn’t have his orientation be the sole focus of the novel or his personality.
But no, it’s not like that. It would’ve been so easy just to have Syd be the straight action hero you read in sci-fi books, or have his sexuality be the only side of him you see. Instead, Alex London wrote into his novel a character that is attracted to men, but doesn’t flaunt it around, is compassionate and funny when relaxed, but spunky and serious when he needs to survive, and is a pragmatic optimist who dreams of freedom from debt and the proxy system. He’s what makes his novel, and it really makes me wish I read “Proxy” back when I made my Top 10 LGBT YA Novels I Recommend list back in June. The way Alex London incorporates LGBT themes into a heavy dystopian novel would make “Willful Machines” blush. You know what? Let’s make “Proxy” #11 on the list while I’m at it.
The more I think about it, Syd reminds me of Garnet, except…okay I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t watched Steven Universe yet, but let’s just say that Syd has the same double consciousness as Garnet 😉
Then there’s Knox, a rebellious teenage boy who never thought his actions had consequences until he commits vehicular manslaughter. Then his perception of his life is shattered. At times, his sarcastic comments can be annoying at first, but his quirky demeanor, wanting to repay his proxy for his tortures and the friendship/romance blooming between him and Syd make him likeable.
In fact, his transformation from a spoiled rich kid into a selfless fighter who’d save those he cares about, even if it meant giving up his life, is a wonderful story arc to read. By the end of the story, you feel how much he’s grown onto you, and the final chapter is a beautiful example of a character reaching atonement.
Honestly, I just realized something. If Syd is similar to Garnet, then Knox is kind of like Peridot (sorry for the continuous Steven Universe reverences; I just finished the latest new episodes to come out).
Probably my favorite scene between them is when Syd and Knox are on the run and sleeping in a cave with a rebel girl named >SPOILERS< and they’re just talking, enjoying each others company, making jokes, quips and relaxing in each other’s company. This showcases and cements their bond with lighthearted comedy and characters being characters.
The side characters are enjoyable as well, from prominent ones such as Egan, Syd’s only friend in the Lower City with a foul attitude towards patrons, to a Yiddish fatherly figure of Syd’s named Mr. Baram, to Knox’s antagonistic father who wants to control his child as a pawn and cares about nothing but his business (Jacques Schnee anyone?). It makes you want to know more about their backstories and learn more about them.
The edgy action and comedy in the novel are wonderful as well, with Alex London taking advantage of location to build together brilliant action scenes and funny interactions. It goes everywhere from escaping a compound with a robotic spider/dog hybrid to running on horseback. Suspense-wise, “Proxy” is very intense with the idea of…well proxies. I remember this one scene where Knox’s father forces him to watch Syd be beaten to the point of near death, and it’s dark and disturbing and painful to imagine. The setting of “Proxy” is one nobody would enjoy to live in, from the dangerous anarchy beyond the Mountain City.
I probably could’ve used some more plot considering I love these characters and wanted to see more of them, but we still have another book to read in the future (and hopefully a third one if we’re lucky). However, I will give Alex London massive credit for making the world of “Proxy” its own identity while mirroring our own world. Whenever I read stories that try to create a world where it heavily criticizes capitalism, it either explains it too little or over-explained to the point of it being a textbook.
Here, there’s a decent balance while actually putting in some social satire, such as refugee kids being assigned names from classic books such as Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre and Atticus Finch, the younger generation’s love for retro nostalgia, and holographic advertisements that pop up beside you based on what’s known about you (that scene with the advos selling to Syd after he’s outed in school still makes me cringe and laugh).
Overall, this book is a fun, enjoyable science-fiction action-adventure for teenagers, whether they’re gay or straight. The characters and their journey through this mad world are what made this novel so enjoyable to read page by page. “Proxy” has the heartbreaking drama, the tearful comedy, the on-the-edge-of-your-seat excitement for teenagers and young adults to enjoy, and characters we learn to love and want to see their debts paid for. If you have the time, this is a book that will leave you emotionally invested for its sequel, “Guardian“.
Thank you for taking your time here! 🙂 Please leave a reply or comment below. Knowing that someone is reading this is what keeps me going, and I’d love to know everyone else’s opinion is on these books or any recommendations for future reviews.
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