Proxy is the story of two boys who are different in every way, outside and in: Knox is a rich, careless, selfish layabout with daddy issues, while Syd is a hardworking, utterly destitute, but generous orphan. Knox goes through girls right and left, while Syd has to keep his attraction to other boys a secret; Knox’s white skin is completely unblemished, while Syd’s brown skin is covered in scars.
They’ve grown up together, but they’ve never met. That’s because Syd is Knox’s proxy: Every time Knox gets in trouble, it’s Syd who is punished, and the more egregiously out-of-control Knox gets, the more brutally Syd is treated. In their world—a vision of our future in which young people like Knox are raised according to the tenets of Objectivism—everything costs, and if you don’t have the money to pay, your life no longer really belongs to you.
It takes some serious chutzpah to name a main character after Charles Dickens’ Sydney Carton: After all, it invites comparison to A Tale of Two Cities, which is a flat-out awesome book. So there’s no question whatsoever about whether or not author Alex London has guts.
He’s got more than just guts, though, because HE USES THE NAME AND HE MAKES IT WORK. There are echoes of A Tale of Two Cities in Proxy’s setting and in one of its character arcs, but the echoes are never overpowering or in-your-face obvious: A reader who’s never read the Dickens (SAD!) won’t be missing any vital information, and haters (MY HEART, IT’S BREAKING!) won’t find it at all Dickens-y. It’s more like a futuristic, high-tech version of Sid Fleischman’s Newbery Award–winning The Whipping Boy.
It’s a thrill ride, with explosions and escapes and danger, chases and betrayals and unlikely alliances; and London’s descriptions of the vision-based technology made me think of both Minority Report and Feed. It isn’t just about the action or the neat technology, though: It’s also a story about trust and redemption, responsibility and forgiveness; about how far people are willing to go to get what they want, and how far they will bend their own moral code in order to justify it. Like The Hunger Games trilogy, it doesn’t offer easy answers about revolution, or about the future of those who bring it about.
While it’s a hugely entertaining read, in retrospect, I’m finding it somewhat more problematic: Syd spends most of the story as a commodity, as an object—to the people who own his debt and to the people who think he’s the Chosen One—and unfortunately, he pretty much ends the story as one, too: He’s more a literary device than a real person. When it comes down to it, the person who really changes over the course of the book is Knox, and Syd is the catalyst for Knox’s redemption: Knox finally sees Syd as a person, who is just as deserving of happiness and comfort as anyone else, and in so doing, Knox changes the world. And he does it in a way that, to a degree, takes away Syd’s agency. The whole thing gave me an uncomfortable White Man’s Burden vibe.
But, you know: I have been known to overthink these things. SO YAY FOR THE SPLOSIONS!
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.