I didn't know anything about Proxy when I first saw it at Barnes and Noble. The YA sci-fi dystopian was in its own display rack, adjacent to the other teen and YA books, and its shiny cover, with mirror image faces, like when you look into a brook, and catchy one word title caught my attention. So, I walked over and grabbed a copy. Then I flipped it over to read the book blurb but what I found was not the book blurb but, probably something more influential. (When I was growing up, book blurbs seemed always to be on the back cover. Nowadays, with hardbacks anyway, sometimes they're on the front flap.) My instinct to turn to the back, then, wasn't fluke or happenstance. What I found was advance praise from two authors who are among my favourites; authors who've been very supportive of my own work and one of them is someone I've studied under - Marie Lu (Legend, Prodigy) and Matt de la Peña (Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, The Living). Seeing their endorsements of Mr. London's Proxy was enough for me to buy the book and, once I turned the final page, I am (not surprisingly) glad to report that both endorsements are spot on.
In a future where the rich have everything and the poor much less of it - strikingly similar to our world in 2013 - the rich have the additional luxury of having their debts and punishments satisfied by someone else. Hence the title. But as things come to a head that even Knox, one of the book's protagonists - the rich one - can't simply turn the other way and let the system run as it normally does, he decides to help his proxy, Syd, escape from one destiny to fulfill another. Accompanying them is Marie, another affluent member of society, who has her own set of reasons to flee the city for the outskirts of a deserted wasteland in search of the rebel group known as The Rebooters. Pursued by Knox's powerful father on one side and underground mercenaries, The Maes, on the other Syd, Knox and Marie undergo a breathtaking, twist-turning series of adventures that sets the stage for volume two in the series. For those of you of a certain age and who enjoyed the movie Logan's Run, reading Proxy made me, on more than one occasion, think about the 1970s sci-fi thriller. I emailed Mr. London and asked if the movie had served as any kind of inspiration. He replied by telling me it hadn't, since he hadn't seen it, although he did say he may need to watch it since I wasn't the first one to bring up this similarity. Publisher's Weekly did so in its review.
Proxy is a fast read, with its exciting storyline and (gentle) slap in the face twists. Mr. London deftly executes page turning excitement with efficient, yet, illustrative sentences and relatively short chapters; the average being about 10-12 pages long. One of the passages that stuck out for me the moment I read it and echoed in my head every time a Guardian appeared happens on page 174. As Syd and Knox begin their escape, one of The Guardians, the police force who are genetically manipulated to be strong, fast, single-minded in their approach and gorgeous to look at, pursues the two boys. Mr. London describes her pursuit like this: "She moved with the easy grace of practiced violence. She was built to catch them. This was her nature."
In addition to the action, Mr. London sends each character on arcs that happen naturally. Nothing in Proxy feels forced and the way he weaves in the dynamic of teenagers getting to know one another, in spite of the life-threatening circumstances surrounding them, possesses something natural that further pulls you into their story. In a word, Mr. London's starring characters -Syd, Knox, Marie - are believable and because of that you feel for them and you root for them.
In his endorsement on the back cover, Mr. de la Peña uses the word "groundbreaking" and, indeed, Proxy is. There are certain traits about each character that we don't often see - at least not obviously and/or with main characters - in other popular YA fiction. Additionally, Mr. London appears to have made a blatant decision to diversify in the ethnicities of his characters and the trappings of his novel. Yet, he does this without stereotype or alienation. There is nothing token about Mr. London's work. Yiddish plays a big part in the novel. Marie's father's name is Dr. Xiao Alvarez. There is a (secondary) major character with dreadlocks. Syd is described as having darker skin. One of the teachers in Syd's school is Indian and so too might be Mr. Baram, Syd's friend and employer; although with what you'll learn about him, he could be Israeli or Jewish. Moreover, while you can identify who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, each character is complex in that they all show traits and reactions from both sides of the right/wrong spectrum.
I didn't know, when I finished reading Proxy, if it was a standalone novel or the first in a series. After reading the final sentence, I hoped it was a standalone. I say that ironically, though, as I am currently writing the first book in two different series. Obviously, I don't have anything against a book series. However, the ending of Proxy is so powerful that I liked the idea of the reader having to think about and decide for him or herself what happens to the characters and the world in which they live. Such is the skill with which Mr. London writes, however, because the ending deftly leaves itself open to being continued while, at the same time, the entire story could end where it does without leaving the reader dissatisfied.
Even though I hoped Proxy, based on its ending, was a standalone, I am very much looking forward to reading the Guardian, book two in the series. If you're fan of of Ms. Lu's Prodigy, Veronica Roth's Divergent and, of course, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, as I am, once you've read Proxy, you'll be adding Alex London to your list of favourite authors.