Author: Alex London
Series: Proxy #1
First Sentence: “Even a perfect machine wasn’t built to go this fast.”
Rating: 5 out of 5 fancy tech gadgets
I almost don’t even know where to start with this book there is so much that I like about it, so I guess I’ll start with the gay thing… because reasons.
Okay just kidding, kind of. First I’ll start with a brief intro to the characters: Knox the Patron, Syd the Proxy, and Marie the Causegirl.
It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian world (yeah I know but stay with me) with massive inequality (shocking I know but again stay with me) where the rich Patrons actually pay for their kids to have Proxys- other, poor, kids roughly the same age who receive the punishment for what Patrons do. So when Knox gets in trouble – which he does a lot – Syd carries out the punishment which can be slave labor, zaps with a stun stick etc. Patrons know who their Proxies are because they are forced to watch the punishment being given, a form of psychological punishment, but the Proxies never know who their Patrons are. Also there is lots of cool high tech stuff, texting through contact lenses, immediately working medical care, robot workers and automated cars. Bodies carry tech too, you can get a genetic code installed to turn your eyes purple.
The poor can only buy things by taking out debt which means years of service. So if you get sick, you have to pay for it with more years of service. Totally unfair. Etc. More on that later.
Okay, so now that you’ve met our three main characters– the gay thing. Syd is gay. And Alex London manages to be one of the VERY FEW authors who successfully do the whole “he just happens to be gay” thing. It is authentically an aspect of Syd’s personality and affects how he views the world as much as being a poor proxy does, as much as Knox is affected by losing his mother as a kid, as much as Marie is affected by her guilt about being rich. Syd’s sexuality is part of him, but it doesn’t define him. Brilliant. Awesome. 20 points to Hufflepuff (I feel like London would be a Hufflepuff for some reason.) This is what needs to be more present in all literature.
Also Syd is black. Or at least ‘dark skinned’ which I supposed you can interpret different ways but I see him as black. And again, London does this well because its not that Syd is poor because he is black, it’s that the rich have the money to genetically lighten their skin which is the fad and so they do. It manages to be a commentary on the inequality of white privilege rather than perpetuating it. (I think anyway… but as a white girl I’d love to hear the opinion of readers of this book who are not white. Because as much as I try to unpack this shit, I do sometimes need to be schooled and I welcome that so I can grow as a human.)
So points for gay, points for racial diversity… however it can’t be denied that cis homo boys are still written sooooo more than non cis and non boy characters, so that’s a thing that I’d love to see change.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that talked about debt in this way. Inequality is a must for dystopian novels, but the concept of being in debt, and that debt being paid in years of service was incredible and topical. Syd and most of the people he knows were rescued from refugee camps and so started out their lives 18 years in debt to pay for the cost of rescuing them. Because we get both Syd and Knox’s voices narrating, we hear Knox just not remotely grasping the concept of how when one starts out life literally decades in debt it is just numerically impossible to ever escape that. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” just isn’t an option because 2+2 will never ever = 9. No matter how hard you work.
Those who have never had to take out debt simply cannot fathom how limiting debt is, how constraining it is, and usually do not understand that having to take out debt is often not a choice, because they have never been without a choice on the matter. What an amazing book to hand to kids whose lives look more like Syd’s, to give them such a great protagonist to relate to and watch Knox and Marie, who represent very real people to this kid, come to at least some understanding of the inequality of the world around them. At the same time, those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up privileged, can relate to Knox and learn along with him from Syd.
As we read, we shake our head at the idiotically privileged and ridiculous things Knox says, partially because we’ve heard it from the 1% in our own world and partially because we recognize a kernel of ourselves in what he says. At the same time we see Knox’s perspective. We don’t agree with it, obviously (hopefully), but we can see how after being raised as he was, he views the world this particular way. Knox is a wonderfully selfish kid who can say the things that adults in our world don’t want to say, like ‘why would I ever question a system that benefits me?’ Knox is a mirror to ourselves that we don’t particularly like. But I think it is clear, and important to acknowledge, that most of us reading this would live in the Upper City with Knox, and not in the Valve with Syd. And there is Syd, brought together with Knox and Marie by circumstances, to show Knox how unfair the system and the world is to everyone who isn’t at the top.
Finally, there is Marie: the Causegirl, the rich girl who sees that the system is unfair and wants to change it. Through Syd’s eyes we see how arrogant the Causegirl can seem to the people she wants to help, how insulting that ‘you’re-broken-I-want-to-fix-you’ thing can be. Through Knox’s eyes we see how ultimately naive it is to believe that one summer in the PeaceCorps will fix the world. And by the end of the book we see that in spite of both truths, change requires privileged people to work alongside oppressed people to make anything actually happen.
Also Marie doesn’t succumb to Knox’s practiced charms, jokes with Syd and kicks ass in a fight. So that’s a win.
Perhaps most of all I loved the honesty of the characters. They grow and develop and learn from each other, but they remain themselves to the end. They become a better version of themselves. The ending had me in tears and sprinting to my laptop to see if there would be a sequel (there will) because I wanted more more more of these people. At the same time it would have been okay if the story had ended there because the point had been made without being preachy or “here is the moral of the story” at all.
So basically London managed to effectively use all the dystopian tropes without any of them reading cliche. He made me love the characters while seeing their faults. He made me clearly see the parallel to my own world without feeling like I was in an English class. He made me cry at the unselfish act of a teenager while cheering at the courage it took to do it.
Reader Verdict: Put it at the top of your To-Read list and get on that shit IMMEDIATELY!
Librarian Verdict: Good recommend for any and every kid. Gay, straight, rich, poor, black white. Everyone should read it. Also… Fast paced action and short chapters = good for harder-to-please readers