Book Review: Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  HarperTeen

Summary:  Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision making for the best personal results. 

Just like everyone else, sixteen-year-old Rory Vaughn knows the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. When she’s accepted to the elite boarding school Theden Academy, her future happiness seems all the more assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. 

Then she meets North, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. Soon, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore — a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.
First, I should say that I received this book free as a First Reads in exchange for my honest review. I had to think about this one for a couple days before writing a review. SPOILERS FOLLOW>>>


I’ll begin with the characters. It took me quite a while to get into Rory. She related the story well but I didn’t feel much for her or think she was very much fleshed out as a character for much of the story. I couldn’t actually tell if I liked her until somewhere around 200-250 or so pages in. She had some interesting qualities but none seemed to pull together to make her real.

She is accepted to the famed Theden Academy and she’s supposed to be academically gifted, but she doesn’t express much interest in school. She has an affinity for maths but aside from counting in Fibonacci to sleep instead of sheep, she isn’t shown doing anything with those skills until they’re put into play for the “big moment” near the end. That made her skill seem like a parlor trick or plot point more than a “real” characteristic of the character. I honestly thought she’d join the Math Club at Theden, but no, she’s not a joiner, either. She says she’s into music but beyond listening to her favorite playlists, being introduced to North’s band & snapping her fingers for a few of their tracks well, there’s not much there either. She is desperate for any information on her deceased mother (who also matriculated at Theden) and is completely taken with a quote her mother left her from Milton’s Paradise Lost but she doesn’t do anything about it. She gets the quote early on in the story but doesn’t seek out the book or show any other interest in this deeply important link to her mother until she sees the book at North’s apartment and he offers to let her borrow it to read. Seriously, I was annoyed with the fact that it took a boy to introduce her (and give her a summary, as well) to it when she surely could have sought out a copy herself. I don’t like rewards handed to main characters, I like them to seek them out. Rory is led to and handed the pieces and sometimes the pieces are put together in coherent explanations for her also. And this was just one “Easter egg” in kind of a heaping basketful of them for Rory. Still, I didn’t dislike her but neither did I love her either.

I did like Beck immediately and was sad there was so little of him in the book. There was at least a mention at the end, of his fate and for that I was glad. He was missed throughout the main. I liked Hershey immediately but only because she was so heavily drawn in the vapid, frenemy, mean girl way that I knew (okay, really hoped. hard.) that there was more to her. Happily, I was correct (the same is to be said of Dr. Tarsus, whom I also found well done and interesting). I also liked Liam and Nora. Sadly, Nora was literally on one page, said something compelling and was never heard from or seen again. Sorry Nora, but thanks for stopping by. There were two other girls in Rory and Hershey’s group but honestly they felt so interchangeable that I can’t even recall much beyond their names. Rachel and Izzy (I think). Rachel got into the society but I can’t recall if she was the calorie/weight obsessed one.

Oh, and then there’s North. Actually, Norvin but he has to go by North because, how perfect a match to a girl named Aurora is that? So perf and twee. Anyway, North is Rory’s love interest and I won’t hate because it was at least kept at a non-nauseating level and I appreciate the author’s restraint. For the record, I applaud it. North, had a similar problem as his girl Rory, he didn’t get to be a full person. Perhaps there wasn’t time but when he came on the scene, Rory’s description of him was like a love note to Seattle tourist traps (tats, mohawk, coffee slinging, hacker). Girl, stop. But since she’s from Seattle, I guess it worked for her. He’s signaling counter-culture bad boy but he’s totally non-threatening, so he’s the perfect book boyfriend. North didn’t have anything that could be construed as flaws (or depth) and all kinds of wish fulfilment cred (his own apartment, no parents or guardian to interfere in his business, a motorbike, an under-the-table well paying job and an additional fully paid for apartment in midtown Manhattan with a balcony for the final getaway. Not bad for an eighteen year old). I personally found that he’d put a camera inside the necklace he’d gifted Rory with (without telling her) highly creepy and not cute (I don’t care why he did it) but I’ve learnt with YA that many things boyfriends do that are creepy & exceeding boundaries to me are taken by many as romantic and sweet. I did find it a niggling continuity problem that he tells her Theden has a restraining order against him and he’s not to be within fifty feet of the campus (as much as he likes her, he’s not about risking jail as it would destroy his career) but then takes Rory to the Student Health Center when she’s come down with flu. It’s never mentioned that this is at some other location off campus so… ok then.

A few more things. The descriptions of Rory’s Practicum & Cognitive Psych classes were very well done. The simulations were vivid in Practium as were the discussions and the clinical information in Cog Psych were fascinating and relevant to the story. The Doubt was a well done thread throughout. I enjoyed every instance of Lux and Gnosis/Gold. These seemed so timely and also forward looking with regard to our relationship with technology now. Even I admit that I never know what’s on television because I rely on my television to tell me when my programs are on. I completely understood how seamless reliance of tech for the simplest decisions had overtaken society to the extent it had in this near-future story. I both liked and was annoyed by the convergence of Gnosis, Big Pharma and Gold. I liked the skill with which the author pulled the threads together for the plot but I thought the plot itself was a tad heavy handed. Insofar as it being a timely topic, it worked but it also plays to current paranoias with easy targets. Again, it was well drawn by the author and highly relatable but there was no counterbalance to the “all is evil” angle. I honestly don’t know why Rory had a problem with Hershey remaining at Theden once everything happened when it was clear that Gnosis & more specifically, the Society are the problem, not everything ,nor everyone at Theden are a part of that and the institution still had relevance and worth to others. At least she admitted that the choice was what mattered.

This books is 469 pages and I admit that it seemed a bit slow for the first 200 or so. The action picks up around page 350 (as did my like for Rory) and holds well until the end. There are some very good ethical questions raised and what our relationship with technology should be. Above all people, read those Terms of Service Agreements. I’m glad that I read this and I’d recommend it so 4 stars.

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