Shephard Summers





by Alex London

Young Adult (gay protagonist with dark skin!)
Penguin, 2013


Set in the future, where the rich can pay for “proxies” for their children. If the child gets into trouble, the proxy must take the punishments. In exchange, the proxy gets to go to school, medical attention, and augment the struggle of poverty.  It’s an indentured servitude from a distance, as they never meet. Well, almost never.

Syd is a good kid. A smart kid. And he’s gay.
(clever term for gay kids: Chapter 11, a bianary insult based on two 1’s coming together, and also plays on the idea of bankrupt).  Syd just wants to lay low and pay off his debt and get out from under a very difficult patron named Knox, who’s in trouble constantly, for which Syd pays for painfully.  But fate has other plans for he and his patron, Knox, and the unlikely friends he’s about to make as he’s forced down a dangerous path. 

The world building is clever and fascinating.  If you have the money, genetic patches are at your disposal, effecting anything from the growth of longer eyeslashes to curing disease. But with the vain and/or salutary applications, come the nefarious (evading attention, keeping under the radar, fooling the authorites, etc).   In a world where you are constantly tracked because of your connection to the feed, adverts target you and broadcast around you, displaying your life to the world around you.  Very hard to stay under the radar.  Harder still if you’re a proxy whose patron is constantly in trouble, and eventually, committing a crime punishable by prison, for which you must pay.

I really loved the readable style –sometimes SF can be a bit too literary, to the point that it pulls you out of the story to try to “picture pretty words.”  I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building, and the real consequences these characters and their choices.  Syd, Knox and Marie are on the lamb from some pretty nasty and powerful characters, one of which is Knox’s own father.  We soon learn how interconnected and inbred this world has become, and that people are not always who they seem. I enjoed the small twists and turns.  

The criticisms I’ve read of this book are kinda silly. People complain about not knowing more about the world’s backstory, or they didn’t like the social commentary on where our commercial world is heading, or they complained that there were too many coincidences driving things (like Hunger Games and Harry Potter don’t have them).  Chalk it up to different things being important to different people.  

Although I don’t personally like cliffhangers or books that end like a dropping anvil, I’m comforted by the fact that the next book will be released early spring this year (2014) — called GUARDIAN — and I’ll be reading it, because the author has an easy, page-turning style and Syd is a likable protagonist that you want to survive, thrive and find love and acceptance. 




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