Book Review – ‘Guardian’ (#2 Proxy) by Alex London

Teen dystopian with diversity.

Guardian (#2 Proxy) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

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In the new world led by the Rebooters, former Proxy Syd is the figurehead of the Revolution, beloved by some and hated by others. Liam, a seventeen-year-old Rebooter, is Syd’s bodyguard and must protect him with his life. But armed Machinists aren’t the only danger.

People are falling ill—their veins show through their skin, they find it hard to speak, and sores erupt all over their bodies. Guardians, the violent enforcers of the old system, are hit first, and the government does nothing to help. The old elites fall next, and in the face of an indifferent government, Syd decides it’s up to him to find a cure . . . and what he discovers leaves him stunned.

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This duology has me falling in love with Alex London’s writing and imagination. Not only do we get representation of a minority group (GLBT, POC) but a dystopian world to rival many that have dominated the YA genre. I can’t believe these books have been sitting unread on my shelves for years. ‘Guardian’ was a great read, but not quite up to the excellence of debut ‘Proxy.’ I was still engaged as a reader but upon completing the book I did not feel it had as much of an impact on me as the debut of the series. While the story unfolded organically, I did feel the omniscient POV pulled me from the story frequently.

Like ‘Proxy,’ ‘Guardian’ felt like a road trip book, protagonist Syd attempts to once again get to some place against a faction in power to free the population from an oppressive rule (and save their lives from a virus.) We see Marie stepping in as his protector/squad member again. And a new addition of Liam as a love interest.

Guardian (#2 Proxy) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI don’t think I saw too much character development from Syd. Being fallible seemed to play a big part of his story, but that had already been brought up in ‘Proxy.’ Instead it seems he starts to wrestle with his guilt and whether or not he is deserving of happiness.

Liam felt a little one note. He definitely embodies the mind of a soldier, but I wanted more inner torture to come out after the events he’s lived through and done… that kind of stuff would mess up anyone. I wanted more vulnerability (in private moments) to shine through. I feel it would have rounded him out as a character and not just a stereotypical protector.

I didn’t feel like Marie went much of anywhere. She helps move the plot along at some points, but again I was questioning what she was even doing there. Her determination to stick to a cause still feels out of step with the narrative. I think a great opportunity to juxtapose the philosophical themes of the novel were missed out in using her as an alternative point of view, or a sounding board.

It did feel a little formulaic, following the same path of ‘Proxy.’ I was hoping it would divert from this template, but still an entertaining read nonetheless. The first half, like the debut, felt a tad slow in its pacing. There are some great action scenes, but it takes half the book to set up the scene and get all the characters in place to drive the plot forward.

I really love Alex London’s writing style, but I’d love to read more following a different form of plot/story and see him start moving the plot forward in the early chapters.

I pretty much hunched-out the ending very early on – but not quite – there was a little twist to it that I had not guessed… and that added a great surprise. There were also a few other elements that I did not see coming. Overall, ‘Guardian’ gave me more surprises than ‘Proxy,’ but it let me down in the structure of the plot, pacing, and it needed a bit more spice for the characters. I needed something to balance out the bleakness in the world of ‘Proxy’ and machinations of introducing new characters and plot points.

I think as a sequel I was expecting more complexity, a higher intensity of challenges faced, introduction of a more emotional connection with the characters; but it was more of another episodic adventure following our protagonist. I can definitely see its appeal to the YA market.

Again some grammatical mistakes London’s editing team overlooked : missing words, words out of place. A little frustrating. I hope they up their professional game and let this author really shine.

I am going to download the finale short story form Alex London’s website because there is no third book in this series. Mainly because I did not get the level of completion I wanted. I don’t think it’s going to address the big questions, philosophical questions in the subtext, but merely wrap up the future of the main characters – which would be nice. As ‘Guardian’ ended as abruptly as ‘Proxy.’

Still a great read I’d happily recommend.

Overall feeling: totally didn’t suck

Guardian (#2 Proxy) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Guardian (#2 Proxy) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Proxy’ (#1 Proxy) by Alex London

Teen dystopian about selling personal debt that raises some interesting questions.

Proxy (#1 Proxy) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia, LGBT

No. of pages: 384

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Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.

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A great hook. ‘Proxy’ is fabulously paced with some great action scenes and kept me riveted from start to finish.

A minor issue I found around the main characters becoming a little annoying over time. I wanted them to grow. Become a little more mature in the light of the challenges they faced. When certain reactions and tone of their narrative became repetitive it impeded the chance to establish a strong emotional connection, and destroyed some relevance to me as a reader.

However, I liked that ‘Proxy’ wasn’t focused on a romance storyline and had a gay protagonist. But I wanted a bit more of a personal connection with Syd other than him just trying to save his life. I wanted some fun and anxiety to make him more relatable, heck a fart joke would’ve make a huge difference.

Knox was bothersome through most of the novel and I wasn’t quite convinced of his motivations, I feel there could have been a stronger underlying motive added to give more strength and conviction to his character. He felt superfluous- until he wasn’t. I understand he starts out as superficial due to his every whim being catered for, but I wanted a stronger sense of drive for his character – social status, street cred, ambition – something for me to really sink my teeth into.

Proxy (#1 Proxy) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI enjoyed the aspect of teens struggling through a world they didn’t want to be in, wanted to rebel against. I think I was craving that stronger emotional connection to the characters and their mission. More angst. Less triviality. Something to really hammer home the bleakness of the world on an emotional level.

I did find myself questioning Marie’s presence. It felt a tad fabricated at times. I guess it boils down to ‘Proxy’ being a plot driven story and therefore the character driven part is the weaker aspect of the novel. You can feel the author’s hand guiding the story.

The amount of gore, murder, and senseless killing definitely painted a desperate picture of how brutal this world is. The cutthroat struggle for survival, you can definitely see Alex London’s experiences as a journalist reporting from conflict zones supporting this story.

Loved the world building and technology, the class structure. I have questions about how the world came to be, how it developed into what it is, and how things will go after the cliff-hanger at the end of ‘Proxy.’ Now keen to read the sequel ‘Guardian’ asap.

Themes of class, race, power, and sexuality were a great addition to this narrative, but some of it felt disjointed in a technologically advanced civilization. Like gay discrimination just seemed a little redundant. And with the level of genetic manipulation and technological intervention through bloodwork, there would have been a larger evolution in self-expression/adaptation/specialisation to link into the class structure. How beauty standards of today expressed in the novel wouldn’t necessarily be the same in the world of ‘Proxy’ with all this technology at their fingertips. Like more extremes of genetic manipulation and integrated technology would express wealth and stature, and therefore some of the wealthy could seem almost alien.

Alex London’s writing style was effortless, I was able to slip into the imaginary world easily and only got pulled out from some grammatical errors – which his editing team at Philomel Books let him down on. Words out of place or missing. Maybe between 5-10… I feel like London deserves much better.

Wonderfully unpredictable. Though I guessed the twist very early on. It was just a very bumpy ride. Thoroughly enjoyed this – one of the better dystopian novels I’ve read in a while in YA. An active protagonist.

Overall feeling: mildly impressed

Proxy (#1 Proxy) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Proxy (#1 Proxy) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Many of the novels I’ve read lately represent diversity or own voices, which I have loved. So let’s take a deeper look into how writing is evolving in today’s market, and how much of the market share they actually represent… or are they just the latest fad? Is this reflected in my personal library?

Firstly, let me state unequivocally that I do not lump diversity or own voices into a marketing trend. Granted, they are being used as just that at the moment, but trends are an unavoidable phenomenon in driving book and e-book sales. We saw a surge in YA after the success of Harry Potter and ‘Twilight,’ then erotica in the wake of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ followed by a push in non-fiction, primarily memoirs and autobiographies… and of late it’s been LGBTQIA+ and diverse characters (including own voices.) This observation has come from what genre of novels publishing houses are accepting for submission, and where I’ve seen the marketing dollars spent on for campaigns both online and in-store.

But I don’t want to get into a discussion on marketing trends and the publishing landscape, I’m more concerned with what we’re seeing in literature, and congruently, how is it reflected in my own personal library and shopping habits? I know the things I like to read, but am I a snob when it comes to novels that support diversity? People of colour, LGBTQIA+ characters, characters with a disability or mental illness, empowered female characters… I think it’s about time I survey my shelves and tally up just where I sit on the spectrum.

In addition to that, I grew up in a privileged household, am healthy, able-bodied, and only lived through some aspects of discrimination and illness. So it limits what literature is relatable to me personally. While I like to educate myself and take a walk in other characters shoes to experience walks of life differing to my own, it still needs to be something I can connect with on some level. So the results of this discussion are skewed because of my life experience. I can strive for political correctness and inclusivity, but by nature, I will never truly know what it is like for some minorities. But literature plays a huge part in breaking down those barriers. As a former high school teacher I can see the value in this.

Blond student looking for book in library shelves at the universityFirstly, let’s take a look at my own shelves to get a sample size. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Though take into account that I’m only looking at novels that I have purchased and read myself over the last thirty odd years. So it’s encompassing a lot of marketing trends.

Here’s the results from a sample size of 400 novels:

Own voices                         12%    (including LGBTQIA+ and people of colour)

I feel it’s important to recognise an authentic point of view that’s come from a place of genuine experience. It shows not only diversity in representation, but also in that of authors. While I believe a writer can create any character they wish, I feel it’s important to acknowledge books that fall into the own voices category, because they did not have access to the publishing industry in the numbers they do today previously. It’s illustrating how reading and writing is evolving, and indeed humanity as a species. Maybe we’ll get somewhere closer to a Star Trek future than we think.

 

LGBTQIA+                           21%

(Representation in the main characters of a novel)

Disabled                               9%

(A physical disability of some description in one of the main characters)

Mental Illness                    20%

(One of the main characters suffers some form of mental illness and is one of the major themes of the novel)

Person of Colour              14%

(Representation in the main characters of a novel)

Gender Inequality           11%

(The major theme of the novel deals with female discrimination/inequality)

Body Shape                        9%

(Main Character has body size issues as a main theme of a novel)

 

 

A further breakdown of GLBTQIA+  – looking at representation in the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity of the main cast.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

The main observation of these statistics, is that if I did not take into account the last ten years of reading, all of these categories would have a sum total of less than 5%. So there has been a massive explosion of diversity in recent years.

We’ve seen the trend of more intricate storytelling evolve throughout the entertainment industry. Film and television are exploring more developed characters and storylines, including diverse characters. Flashing back to some of the shows and books I’ve read in my teens, they feel stereotypical and tropey nowadays. At the time I felt they were amazing, but if reviewing today, I’d tear them to pieces.

Two things surprised me, and made me a little proud, upon looking at the statistics of my library, is that I have around 15-20% representation of most of the categories above. That means one in five books I pick up are representing diversity of some description. Which is statistically comparable to the real world population. I mean, I’ll be working on getting those numbers much higher, but for all the talk that the publishing industry was dominated by white middle-aged men in the 80’s, to being overtaken by women today, it says a lot about my attitudes towards inclusivity and humanity in general. It seems I sought out diversity even in my teens, despite it not really having become a movement for another twenty years, or much of a selection to purchase from.

One thing I want to touch on a bit further is that of own voices versus diversity. It’s kind of like saying only gay actors can play gay characters in film. Writing is using words as tools, just as acting is using expression as tools. It has nothing to do with the creator. I say you can do either. But. Where a person who has been discriminated against in the past has managed to break out and add to the wonderful world of entertainment, it’s important to acknowledge their struggles and change from that experience. Why should it have been a struggle in the first place? What can we do the make it more accessible in the future? It doesn’t need to get uber-political, it just needs to stay rooted in common decency and mutual respect.

Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Looking at my TBR, there will be a huge difference in the statistics in years to come. I’m seeing a lot of queer books, novels dealing with mental illness, disability, and people of colour. I might have to make conscience effort to include more dealing with gender equality and body image to round out my library. But it looks exciting!

What other genres or categories am I missing that you feel are important to note? I’ve thought about class and social standing, but that seems to be a very dominate storytelling tool. Maybe I can call out representation of fellow redheads in literature? Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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My Challenge to You:

Take a look at your library, how many novels have you read that fall into the above categories? What trends have you noticed in the publishing landscape? Do you even enjoy diverse reads?

Comment and let me know the results.

Happy reading Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Porcupine of Truth’ by Bill Konigsberg

Hidden depths to socially aware road trip.

The Porcupine of Truth Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 336

From Goodreads:

Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.

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I enjoyed ‘Openly Straight,’ so I picked this one off my shelves soon after, desperate for some more Bill Konigsberg goodness. ‘The Porcupine of Truth’ wasn’t quite what I expected, but still an engaging, brilliant read. There is a lot of wit and Dad jokes in this one which tickled my fancy. All the characters are flawed and are batted around their heads repeatedly with their failings – something I really liked about the tone of the novel.

There was a lot of philosophy of self, death, and God in this. I appreciated the raw honesty of the discussions, loved the points of view, but there were a few moments I was completely over the God stuff… but I understand the need for it to be in the story as our protagonist Carson continually searched for the answer to why?

The Porcupine of Truth Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI also loved Carson’s attitude towards homosexuality – he is faced with this question of acceptance in a variety of forms throughout the novel, and for a heterosexual white teen, he shows grace and maturity beyond his years, and beyond the scope of just about any other character in the novel. It was amazing to read. Juxtaposing this new generation growing up with tolerance and acceptance with that of an older, prejudiced one. And not just on sexuality, but on race, age, and class. It was such a succinct observation on society, as a subtext, that had me cheering.

However, with all the subtext and heavy emotional topics, I did feel it left the book feeling a bit bland. Only a bit. I kinda wanted Carson or Aisha to do something hilariously crazy and zany to balance it out. But this is realistic fiction at its best – a narrative of a person’s life on a journey, figuratively and spiritually, with an undercurrent of politics and social construct. It’s all heavy stuff laced with teen sarcasm and not-so-funny puns.

Carson is lovable in all aspects – a beautiful disaster. He’s socially clumsy and paddling to find some sort of rhythm. Searching for a place to belong. He encapsulates all that teen awkwardness and brings a vulnerable backstory that squeezed my heart.

Aisha had the same inner workings but with a more street-smart exterior. It was true genius to see her friendship with Carson progress.

I laughed plenty, and felt my throat tighten, very near shedding a tear, but not quite. Such a unique voice, though I did find the writing style slightly jarring at times. I don’t know if it was the swearing, the slightly-off jokes, or short abrupt sentences, at times it zapped out the magic to leave you facing the bleakness of it all. Great writing, but not the warm and fuzzy I was looking for.

A few things concerned me, like Carson overlooking death at a time when it should be hitting him the hardest – I only say that because I’ve been there and it’s a hard thing to come to grips with. It felt like he was using the good news of the moment to mask the pain he was going to face. Whether that was the author’s intent or not, it was something that stood out to me.

It’s a great book I’d recommend to those who love contemporaries, and books that leave you thinking…

Overall feeling: cutting and cutesy.

The Porcupine of Truth Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 The Porcupine of Truth Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.