Awww, kid-me would have absolutely LOVED Proxy! Kid-me would have been so into this. She would have fallen for Syd and identified too much with Marie and totally shipped Syd/Knox. She would never have asked questions like “why the hell are proxies even a thing, that makes no sense” or wondered about the likelihood of that many young children putting themselves into crippling debt to voluntarily go to school. She definitely wouldn’t have cussed out that old man for sending a bunch of kids into the desert alone and then somehow beating them to their destination totally unscathed like Glinda in Oz. Yeah, kid-me would not have cared about that stuff because she would have been busy enjoying the sad, tragic lives of these pretty, too-good-for-this-cruel-world teens.
…unfortunately, 31-year-old me was definitely doing all those things (except the enjoying part). Ok, to be fair there were parts of Proxy that I did enjoy. Most of them were weird little moments where I experienced the kind of chilling pity that comes from reading about a character who is accepting of their own suffering and oppression to the point where they don’t even question it or maybe even realize what it is. For example, there is a scene in the beginning where Syd is forced to donate blood for his patron. No one really mentions the low-key horror of being required to give up your own blood involuntarily, and the moment kind of just passes by. Syd goes back to class woozy and hypoglycemic and no one really cares. That was dark and subtle and I appreciated it. But for every one of those moments there were three heavy-handed versions where we get to hear about the *injustice* of the system, and how *awful* it is for Syd, and how *hard* he’s working to escape his debt. I mean, all of those things were certainly true within the narrative, but it was so blatant that it got eye-roll worthy at times.
I also want to give London props for going pretty dark with his ending. I truly thought we were dealing with some powerful plot armor, but I was wrong. I was honestly surprised with the intensity of this YA/middle grade book. Unfortunately, I don’t think it really saved the book for me. I hate to go too hard on Proxy because it is, of course, YA. But then again, so are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Queen’s Thief series and as far as I’m concerned those are all legitimately good in their own right. So being “good for YA” is not really an excuse.
My main issue with Proxy was the lack of plot momentum. Ostensibly, it is a tense adventure/thriller that sets up a high-stakes chase, but nothing ever seemed to feel very urgent to the characters. They were wishy-washy with their own plan and their goals, so I as a reader ended up not really caring that much about where they ended up either. The characters themselves also fell flat for me. As much as I loved the archetype that Syd was built on (I mean, named after Sydney Carton – it’s an auspicious start), in practice I found him one-note and boring. He was too flat and too good and didn’t care enough about anything to make me feel like there was something that I could connect with or root for. As for Knox and Marie… yeah I just didn’t care about either of them at all. Especially Knox. God, he was irritating.
Another thing I feel bears mentioning, if you’re considering reading this book: The narrative starts out with two third-person limited perspectives (Syd’s and Knox’s) that switch off each chapter. However, once the two characters meet up the perspective suddenly melds and becomes third-person omniscient so we’re switching between Syd’s and Knox’s thoughts haphazardly from paragraph to paragraph. Later on in the story we even start getting other character’s thoughts being interjected. It all felt really weird and hard to follow, especially when the perspectives were switching between Syd and Knox and the narration would just say something like “he thought”, which could refer to either of them.
Overall, I think Proxy is probably going to be beloved by a lot of young readers. I know I would have loved it as a pre-teen. For any adults wondering if they should pick this up, I’d say that there are better versions of this out there that you’d probably enjoy more. My recommendation: try Dry Run by Lolly Walter instead.