As promised, it’s a Queer Book Club review!
Proxy is a young adult science fiction novel set in a dystopian future where the poor pay off their debts by acting as whipping boys for the children of the rich. And when everything costs money – from your care as an orphan, to your education, essential tech and healthcare – debt is impossible to avoid, as the main character, Syd, has found. Syd is a proxy for Knox, the son of a wealthy Patron, head of the biggest security company. And Knox has some serious daddy issues that land Syd in constant trouble. Then Knox crashes his car and kills someone and the boys must go on the run if Syd is to survive.
I originally picked this book up for my (12 year old) son, but it turned out to be a bit old for him, so I read it instead. I enjoyed that it felt like proper sci-fi, not romance with a sci-fi skin. The main character is gay, but there’s not even a whiff of romantic sub-plot. Knox is possibly pansexual, though that’s not 100% clear. The book is extremely fast paced – most of it is some sort of chase scene – and the characters don’t have time for anything on the side. I was cool with the matter-of-fact handling of Syd’s sexuality and that it was a part of his story, but not the whole story. However, the pacing did feel a little too fast in places, for me at least, keeping in mind I’m not the target audience. I’d have liked more time to get to know the characters in between them escaping their certain doom. I enjoyed Syd and Knox’s interaction and watching them grow, but I could have handled a lot more of that.
Another positive for me was the treatment of debt in this world. I’ve not seen that really tackled head on as a main theme and this book certainly brings home the soul-crushing nature of unavoidable debt and extreme economic inequality in a very timely manner. The world is dark and violent, so it’s at the older end of the YA age spectrum.
The main plot doesn’t really get going properly until halfway through, as Syd starts off clueless about a lot of things, and there was a point after that where I wasn’t totally sure the plot makes sense (I’m still not), but I decided to roll with it and carry on. Without spoilering, it edges into chosen-one territory, which isn’t my favourite thing, but I understand it is a big thread running through a lot of YA.
I should warn anyone thinking of picking up a copy that the ending doesn’t pull its punches, so if you like your endings happy, be warned. I haven’t picked up the sequel yet, so I can’t comment on that. I expect I will one day as I’m curious to see how the plot falls out. I’d say this is worth reading for the themes it presents and if you’d like to read a YA sci-fi novel with a gay character and no romance, which, let’s face it, is pretty rare. But it’s definitely one for people who favour action over character.