Written by: Alex London
Published by: Philomel
Release date: June 18th 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads
Knox was born into one of the City's wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want - the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.
Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.
Then again, neither is Knox's. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox's father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys' resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.
Proxy first caught my eye when I heard that it was a retelling of Sid Fleischman’s The Whipping Boy. Even though I only have vague memories of reading that book in grade school, I do remember really liking it. Plus, I’m a sucker for retellings lately, and Proxy combined the concept of The Whipping Boy with a dystopian, technologically-driven world. And it worked, big time.
Proxy is set in a dystopian future where the entitled upper class kids each have their own “whipping boys” (proxies), who bear the punishments for their patrons’ wrongdoings. And the lower class is basically controlled by this system – most lower class citizens are deep in debt to their patrons, because they barter time served as a proxy to buy what they need. And it’s not easy to get out of that debt – in fact, it’s pretty much impossible. All the data in Proxy hinges on a kind of biological software system. Personal information, like debt, is stored in your blood (or at least, in your body somehow) and tracks you everywhere. This biological software even extends to “patches” that fix injuries or change appearances. It can be hacked, but not easily. (This entire concept was awesome though – I loved how it all worked and fit into the story. SUPER detailed and interesting.)
Anyway. From the very first page, I knew Proxy and I were going to get along. Somehow, Alex London totally sucked me into the story straight away. It’s action-packed, there’s always something going on, and there are so many twists and turns and unexpected surprises (especially at the end) that I was flipping the pages in agony, wondering how everything could possibly turn out okay. The book was a little darker, and a little gritter than I expected, too, but that only made me love it more.
But even more than the engrossing plot and storyline, what made Proxy so awesome to me were the main characters. (Because if you’ve seen even a few of my 4+ star reviews, it’s really all about the characters, isn’t it?)
The main characters are patron and proxy, Knox and Syd. Knox is the Prince Brat of the story – an entitled rich kid who goofs off and generally makes trouble – and Syd is the whipping boy forced to endure the punishments for Knox’s wrongdoings. The book really gets underway when Knox goes too far with one of his ‘stunts’, and Syd is basically sentenced to death. Syd runs – right into Knox – and they end up teaming up to get Syd to safety.
For me, like I said, these two boys are where Proxy really shines. Knox and Syd could have easily been simple and unsurprising characters, having been based on Fleischman’s original duo. Knox, the annoying troublemaker who eventually has a change of heart; and Syd, the stoic whipping boy who’s had a hard life but comes to forgive his patron. While these things are technically true of both characters, they still felt totally fresh and unique, and their emotional journeys were incredibly fulfilling and really great to watch.
Knox is so much more complicated than he first appears. I think his character-arc is the one I most admire (but I really can’t say much because I don’t want to give anything about him away). But Syd is definitely my favorite character in the book – he’s been through hell, which has made him smart and tough (on the outside and the inside), but he’s got his flaws as well. And he’s not the long-suffering-yet-still-endlessly-noble hero that we’ve all seen so many times, which was really refreshing, in a way. (Oh, and Syd also happens to be gay. London wrote this perfectly – it’s not made into an ~issue~, it’s just a natural part of the character and story.)
One of the only things I didn’t like about Proxy was a certain character who tagged along with Knox and Syd to help get Syd to safety. She was okay, but often I felt like she didn’t have a real reason to be there – and she just seemed too idealistic and “good”, if that makes sense, and didn’t really fit in with the rest of the story. Compared to Knox and Syd, she definitely fell flat for me.
So yeah. Knox and Syd were awesome. They’re both as multi-layered as they come, and I loved that both of them ended up making complex and surprising choices that made sense for their unique characters, not just following their literary counterparts/predecessors.
Proxy is really the epitome of what a retelling should aspire to be – at least in this style of “darker scifi retelling of a children’s classic” (is that a thing? well it is now). It’s totally engrossing, action-packed, and un-put-down-able – the perfect blend of fast-paced thrill-ride, awesome throw-you-in-the-deep-end worldbuilding, and characters that grew realistically by leaps and bounds through the course of the story.
Don’t you think it sounds awesome? Yes?
Have you picked it up yet? No?
Wrong answer. ;)