Free to Fall by Lauren Miller had lofty intentions, but didn’t execute on it. I understand Ms. Miller’s point, we live in a world where technology is increasingly guiding our tastes and decisions. Rather than looking up at a sunset, people are looking down at their gadgets where apps tell them what route to drive, what restaurant to eat at, what clothes to buy, etc. After all, when was the last time you made choice, big or small, that didn’t involved spending a little online time. However, while I admire Ms. Miller’s ambition to tackle this theme through a dystopian novel, it was written in a pedestrian way.
Rory Vaughan is accepted into the prestigious Theden Academy which is the social equivalent of the Golden Ticket. Students who graduate are automatically sought by the top colleges and companies, these are the elite who will be the movers and shakers in society. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Uh, anyone who knows there isn’t any such thing as a free lunch. In Rory’s defense, she is just a teen whose mother died at birth and while she loves her Dad, they are very different. She doesn’t have a wide circle of friends and only Beck, her BFF gives her a sense of belonging. Beck is a photographer and a free spirit, unlike Rory he tries to keep his distance from Lux, the decision-making app that most other people are mildly addicted to.
When Rory arrives at Theden she has a lot to work through such as dealing with Hershey, another Theden student from Rory’s own town who never gave her the time of day until she heard Rory was also accepted to Theden. Then there’s Dr. Tarsus, a teacher at the school whose class consists of running the students through stimulations where lives are at risk. There’s also a secret society at the school similar to Harvard’s famous Skull and Bones which might be interested in Rory. Finally, there is North, the mohawked coffee barista Rory is drawn to.
Rory finds out that her deceased mother also attended the school and was the top student, something she knew nothing about as the only tokens she has from her mother are a necklace and a handmade blanket. From here the book tries to weave together a conspiracy by a shadow group, a family reunion, a teen romance and teens trying to bring down a corrupt society, which results in the theme of giving our freedom of choice being watered down. Strip away these superfluous elements and this might have been an interesting book, but it read like Scooby Do in the social media age. It was also ironic that one of the Scooby Gang, North, is a hacker that uses technology to help unleash people from technology even though he uses retro gadgets. The secret society and the blanket story lines broke into DaVinci Code territory. The author should take a page from singer who strip everything down to standing alone one a stage with a guitar performing an acoustic version…I want to read the acoustic version of Free to Fall, not this one.