Written by Alex London
Proxy by Alex London is another addition to the growing dystopian genre that seems to be all the rage in YA literature right now. The story takes place in the future when the world has been ravaged by extreme weather and climate change and there are few places hospitable enough for humans to live in. In this society, consumerism is rampant and ads that specifically target each individual (connected to the “biofeed” – the network connection that is installed straight into the blood) pop up everywhere. They are on display for everyone else to see as well if you do not have the money to purchase the means for a private feed. The very wealthy rule the world and seem to do everything in their power to keep the poor masses in their sad downtrodden state, barely able to eke out a decent survival. In addition, the rich are able to pay for poverty-stricken orphans who – through no fault of their own – are told they owe a debt to society for existing within it, to take the punishments for their over-privileged children. Syd is the poor kid who is serving as the punishment proxy for Knox, who cares nothing for the harm his actions inflict on others or his proxy.
I had a bit of a rough start with this book. The author kept throwing his world terminology and concepts at the readers without explaining them really well. As I continued to read, I was better able to understand what was going on and what the unfamiliar words were referring to, but it took a while and the feeling of confusion I had up to that point was frustrating. After I got a feel for everything, and I did feel like London’s world-building was pretty good. I got a real sense of the environment and the society and I liked that.
I liked the characters well enough, even though there were some stock qualities about them. Knox was the over-privileged rich kid with no thought for anyone but himself, who was constantly trying to manipulate people with his “charm.” Marie was the (also over-privileged) advocate for the cause of the lower class, even though she couldn’t exactly sympathize with their plight. There is even Syd’s trouble-making friend Egan who plays a small part in the plot-line, the bad influence. These supporting characters didn’t seem to have a whole lot of depth, but they were interesting enough to move the story ahead and I felt some kind of connection to them.
Syd was the main character, who was taking the brunt of the discipline for Knox’s bad behavior. He was a nice guy, despite his difficult life situation, but he still seemed to have some street smarts to help him cope. The one thing I would want to make people aware of is that the author makes it very clear that Syd has homosexual tendencies. I personally had no problem with this and I think that London handles this attribute of his protagonist in a really sensitive way – although it was very evident, it was nothing that was in your face. It was simply a fact that became apparent on some occasions. I just want readers to be aware so if they are uncomfortable with that sort of thing they have a heads up about it.
The story was pretty interesting and fast-paced. London seems to be making a lot of social commentary in this book about the disparity between economic classes and the over-reaching role of government (so common in dystopian novels). I also think he brings to mind an interesting concept about the use of discipline and how it works in society. If Syd is always there to take the punishment for Knox’s wrong-doing, how is Knox supposed to learn not to do bad things? And if Syd didn’t do something wrong and is being punished anyway, how is he supposed to equate the crime with the punishment – it doesn’t make sense. All he learns is that life isn’t fair no matter what he does and he might start wondering why he even should try. Knox is forced to witness the treatment that Syd receives for the actions that he (Knox) has done, but after the initial occurrence (when both boys were very young) it really fails to move him and Knox loses all empathy for his proxy and pretty much everyone else. Knox’s father tries pulling a trick on his son to try and “teach him a lesson,” but it fails to really change Knox and even backfires to an extent. If Knox’s father really wanted his son to learn to control his behavior and gain some kind of connection to how his behaviors affect others, why didn’t he just let him take the punishments for his own crimes at the beginning? Seems to me like that would be far more effective and less complicated.
The ending was a bit strange for me. As the adventure of the story unfolded, I didn’t know how London could possibly wrap up the book in the amount of pages I had left to read. I was getting caught up in it and I had more questions about what was going on towards the end of the book and I knew that it was going to be hard to get all those questions answered. In the end, not everything was tied up all neat and clean, but it gave me enough to feel satisfied with it. Of course later, I did find out that this is the first in a series and the second book will come out sometime next year (Guardian – expected publication May 2014). So there may be questions answered in the next book. In a way, that information (another series book) is a little disappointing to me. Even though some things were left unanswered, I kind of liked it being left off a little messy and like I said, I was satisfied enough.
Overall, I liked the book. It kept my attention, moved fast, and gave me enough food for thought to feel like I had spent my time valuably. I would recommend this book to readers, especially those that enjoy sci-fi and dystopian genres.
Review by Rachelle Funk, Skyline High School Media Center
Rating: ★★★★✩ (4 stars)
Interest Level: High School (10-12)
Author Website: www.calexanderlondon.com
Written by Alex London
Release Date: June 18, 2013
ISBN: 9780399257766 (hardcover)