By Alex London
Philomel Books, 2013
Proxy is yet another addition to the ever-expanding mass of young adult dystopian science fiction novels. It sets itself apart primarily by being directed at a slightly older audience,
Syd is a proxy -- one of the hundreds of disadvantaged youth who are financially supported by taking punishments on behalf of their patrons. (Yes, this is exactly the same idea as Sid Fleischman's Whipping Boy, except about 400 years later on.) Syd is not a happy proxy. His patron, Knox, constantly gets into trouble, and long ago stopped empathizing with his proxy, no matter how many shock treatments and community labor assignments he has to watch.
Things come to a head when Knox accidently kills a girl. It was an accident, so Syd will only have to spend 16 years in a maximum security labor camp. Fortunately, Syd has long augmented his proxy earnings through electronics repair, and he manages to hack his way out of his holding cell. He shortly finds himself on an improbable adventure that will put him and his patron on the same side, and possibly destroy the abusive society of the upper city once and for all.
This is a pretty good book. It is written specifically for fans of YA dystopian fiction, and is not likely to have the wider appeal found by some recent series, but it is dire, adventuresome, and has a fast-moving plot. The setting is perhaps a bit overly familiar -- a massive slum full of abused and diseased people perpetually in debt to the rich people in the upper city -- but it is well done and well developed. The science is glossed over, and sometimes downright silly, but this is fairly common in this genre.
The most striking aspect of this novel is that it is a bit more gritty than most YA novels. Not in the pain and suffering of the characters, as that has been well covered time and again. Proxy breaks the mold first in that the main character, the 'good guy' kills people, when appropriate, without massive moral dilemmas. This is more or less forbidden in YA books, no matter how horrible the bad guys are. Less striking, Syd is a gay teenager in a society that is severely homophobic, and he has to endure a bit of persecution, and quite a bit of vehement rhetoric. This is fairly standard fair for YA literature, but it is not common to have this in dystopian fiction, as the social problems under consideration are supposed to be 'bigger' than homophobia (or, on the flip side, some books hint that homophobia is an out-dated historical problem, and no matter how bad things might be in the future, at least they aren't homophobes.)
Altogether, this is a pretty good read, and certainly better than some of the books hitting the YA shelves these days. I would recommend it for YA dystopian fans who are 15 and up, and want something more meaty than The Eleventh Plague or Tunnels. A sequel to Proxy, Guardian is due out this year.