Looking for an awesome YA summer read? Look no further than Alex London’s Proxy. In London’s futuristic novel (out now) kids born into poverty (a.k.a. Proxies) pay off their debt by serving the criminal sentences for wealthy children (a.k.a. Patrons). Enter Sydney Carton, a Proxy who, after a series of strange events, meets his Patron, Knox. Here, London talks about the interesting concept for Proxy, shares the literary inspiration behind his character’s names, and explains why his main character happens to be gay. Check it out after the jump.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you come up with the idea for Proxy?
ALEX LONDON: It’s hard to say where a novel comes from, but I think Proxy started because I didn’t do the dishes. A few years ago, I’d left a sink full of dishes after a day at home ‘writing’—meaning watching Cosby Show reruns—and my partner, on coming home from a long day at work, saw all the dishes, and called out: “Fetch the Whipping Boy!” It brought back the memory of Sid Fleischman’s The Whipping Boy, which I’d read in 4th grade—about a bratty prince and the poor kid who takes his punishments.
I couldn’t get it out of my head, this idea that there could be a child so privileged that he didn’t need to take his own punishments, that he could have another kid act as his proxy. Being a teen already feels like you’re being punished for someone else’s mistakes—even if it’s just yourself 10 minutes earlier when you didn’t realize actions had consequences—so it felt right to imagine this story with teenagers. Though there are real historical precedents for whipping boys, it seemed like something right out of a dark vision of the future. And then I thought, “What if there was a whole society organized around this idea? How would it enforce such an unjust system? And what if a proxy had had enough of it?”
What about the aspect of financial debt? Obviously we don’t have anything as drastic as Patrons and Proxies, but there are big wealth gaps between classes. Why did you decide to tackle that specific issue?
Once I had the concept I had to figure out why the world would be that way. How would a kid end up a Proxy? And if there were many of them, why wouldn’t they just rise up against their Patrons in bloody class warfare? This was during election season, and I kept seeing all this stuff about getting rid of “government interference with the free market,” as if corporations were somehow these benevolent forces for good. Then I got a bill for my student loans and it clicked: In Proxy, there would be no government, no one to rise up against. There would be companies and they would serve their customers. If you weren’t a customer, then, well, you were the product. You could borrow to live, and they could sell your debt and that debt made you a proxy. The debt stuff in Proxy, sad to say, isn’t all that sci-fi. Most young people live it every month when the bills come due. I just took it a little farther, added some torture to the bill collections process.
I love that the Proxies are given names from classic literature. Why did you choose the names you chose? Specifically, why Sydney Carton? Are you a big Tale of Two Cities fan?
Because all the Proxies are these kids in debt, I thought it’d be a delightfully dark twist if not even their names were their own. The names are assigned to orphans, just like their debts. I used the names of fictional characters ripped out of their contexts both because it was funny (Atticus Finch as the sexy mean jock? I mean, how could I resist?), but also because this is what our culture does. We tell stories about people—especially poor people and dark-skinned people—that fit the narrative we need, and those stories often have little to do with their lived realities as individuals. I took it to an extreme: the Patrons of my society actually just assign fictions to their poor. They never need to become real to the powerful.
As for Syd, I hadn’t written the ending when I gave him his name. I just always liked Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens’ themes are all there in Proxy: poverty, revolution, justice, redemption. Looking back at how the book unfolds, it seems obvious that Syd should have that name, but I hadn’t planned it that way. I guess I owe a lot of Proxy to A Tale of Two Cities. Of course, Dickens never wrote killer robots.
UP NEXT: More with Alex London, plus the first two chapters of Proxy!