Just finished The Hunger Games trilogy (or watching the films?) and suffering from withdrawal?
Proxy should be next on your list.
Plot-wise and stylistically, it’s nothing like Suzanne Collins’ series, but the technocratic, classist world created in Proxy will be familiar ground for those who loved The Hunger Games. Similar themes of friendship and betrayal and social awakening amid a whirlwind of violent escapes and pursuits also pervade Proxy. But I don’t want to misstate myself here, either. This is no easy reconsideration of Collins, and there are few similarities otherwise. But it will (or at least SHOULD) make you think about a wide variety of things like loyalty, friendship, values, societal norms, governmental power, the role of technology in our lives, and more!
I admire writers like London and Collins for their ability to create complex futuristic worlds that hold little in common with ours. Too often, however, sci-fi and/or dystopian writers are so focused on the creation of such worlds that I find myself disconnected from the story. I can’t tell you how many such books I have put down because they’re just so hard for me to read. Yes, I admit it, and I suspect that other reluctant readers do the same thing. They want to be brought into a world, not work hard taking notes to try to make sense of it.
London avoids that predicament by presenting a lightning-fast, heart-stopping opening and keeps the foot on the accelerator through much of the novel. That’s always the challenging part in these kind of books—how to teach your reader about this society without a) boring the reader and/or b) overwhelming him/her with complicated details. London allows the reader to hang on by moving the plot quickly along even when the reader isn’t completely indoctrinated into the setting. It’s that willing suspension of disbelief thing that your English teachers taught you about, and London is very good at navigating the line between showing what’s happening and revealing why the characters are doing what they’re doing. As a reader, you follow along, appreciating what’s happening and telling yourself, “Okay, I don’t exactly understand it all, but I trust the writer will reveal it to me in time.” London does not disappoint.
Oh, I haven’t told you what the book is actually about? Well, you know I don’t really do that here. I just provide the recommendations and tell you whether it’s worth your time. Your dedication to this one will pay off. In fact, I would say, more than any book I have read in years, the story grows increasingly more compelling as it proceeds, and you read it faster and faster, unable to put the book down, right up to the eye-opening (for the characters as well as the reader!) conclusion.
What's that? You still want some plot explanation? Okay, fine:
Knox is a teenager in a not-too-distant American future, a rich dude who has spent much of his life acting out against his father for reasons we don’t yet know. You won’t like him at first (probably). In fact, you probably won’t like him for most of the novel, and while it’s hard to read a novel about a spoiled kid you don’t like, that is quickly redeemed by his proxy, Syd. Proxy? Well, it’s complicated, but think of it this way: Whenever Knox does something wrong and/or illegal, Syd is punished, often violently and always cruelly. All the rich kids have one; it’s just the way things are. Syd is everything Knox isn’t, including likeable, and it’s for him you read the story at first. When the boys are brought together and set on a mutual escape plan, London remarkably allows you to appreciate Knox more and more even as you’re recognizing that Syd isn’t the perfect human that lesser writers would have made him out to be. They spend the last half of the novel with a third, female co-protagonist who I won’t tell you much about because it would spoil one of the book’s many surprises. But she provides a fulcrum for the seemingly polar opposite boys, and helps them slide toward each other. She also helps flesh out a little sexual tension (many readers can’t bear to read a book devoid of romance).
What? It still doesn’t sound like The Hunger Games to you? Well, sure it does. There are varying arenas for violent struggles between the kids and their various pursuers. The technocratic society is nearly absolute in its power over the people. And the resistance groups are not often the idealistic saviors they’re made out to be. Ultimately, Proxy teaches the lesson that the only people you can trust are your friends, and your friends are never adults. What kid doesn’t like the message that the hope for the future is in the hands of his/her own generation?