Free To Fall – Lauren Miller

freetofallFrom Goodreads.com: What if there was an app that told you what song to listen to, what coffee to order, who to date, even what to do with your life—an app that could ensure your complete and utter happiness?

What if you never had to fail or make a wrong choice?

What if you never had to fall?

Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision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

Published: May 2014

Why I Chose It: I read Miller’s book Parallel and loved so many things about it – I was super excited to check out her new novel!

The Review:

The part of Miller’s writing that I’m very attracted to is her use of technology and medicine, as it really shows off Miller’s intelligence. As with Parallel, this type of information was very effective in the story. The description of technology that Rory comes into contact with, from handhelds to new wrist devises, to the pod chairs used at the school, was very smooth and flashy. I really enjoyed the different technologies that were integrated smoothly into the narrative. The characters are wowed by brand new pieces, yet still effectively convey the idea that technologies like these are commonplace in their society.

I was less thrilled by the use of religion in the book. There was interesting narrative going on about technology versus religion, which I didn’t mind, as this allowed natural stresses to take place within the plot. Unfortunately the discussion on religion largely revolved around the poem Paradise Lost by John Milton, which I have not had the opportunity to study. Miller does make a solid attempt at trying to explain the themes and theories behind the text, but unfortunately I became lost in the narrative. I knew some of the larger arguments they were making, but there are definitely finer details that I was glossing over, and I may have missed the relevance of having the discussion as part of the narrative.

As an extension of the tech versus religion theme, I found the different settings within the novel were quite interesting because they managed to reflect the ideals of technology versus tradition. There were super high tech rooms at the school, such as the seats the students sat in acting as immersive environments, or entire walls performing as screens. Rory, on the other hand, explores old cemeteries and rock caves that seemed in direct contrast to her school. While it was relatively obvious, I liked the details like this that Miller put into her story.

As for the characters themselves I wasn’t really attached to them in one way or another. They seemed to be almost stock characters that you could find in a variety of books. North wasn’t particularly thrilling as a love interest, and didn’t seem too deep a character: tattoos, Mohawk, love of old technology, and turns out to be a hacker. I was particularly disappointed by Rory’s roommate Hershey, who appeared as a self-centered blonde who had no place in this prestigious school. When she’s found to be sleeping with a shifty character, I was dismayed that there was no character growth for her and little to no redemption at the end of the book. Even though she was a secondary character I didn’t like that she was simply inserted into the storyline as a source of information, and when she was no longer useful the character is discarded from the narrative, popping back up randomly to remind us she was still around. I think there could have been a better use of secondary characters, or that they could have been edited out entirely.

While there was a lot I wanted to like in the book, there just wasn’t anything surprising going on. I really do like the boarding school setting, but it’s a story that I know pretty well. Go to boarding school, discover secret society, then try to a) join secret society or b) take secret society down. The discussion of technology versus tradition has already been hashed out in predictable ways, and even though I liked the use of technology, there wasn’t really anything new or shocking about it. I really do like the sense of intelligence behind Miller’s writing, but this book really just had too many elements that have already been done.

Overall Rating: 3 / 5

Use of Technology: 5 / 5
Pace and Intrigue: 4 / 5
Characters: 2 / 5
Originality: 2 / 5

Quotations:

“I used my Gemini for everything. My calendar, my assignments, my Forum page, my playlists and books – I wanted it all at my fingertips, always. And, of course, I wanted Lux, which kept my life running smoothly. I consulted the app at least a thousand times a day. What should I wear? Where should I sit? Who should I ask to the Sadie Hawkins? Every decision that could possibly matter, and most that probably didn’t.” p 7

“It was the Doubt. He started hearing the voice when we were kids. A bunch of us heard it back then. A whisper in our heads that instructed us and assured us and made us believe the impossible, urging us to the left when reason pointed to the right. The so-called ‘whisper within’ wasn’t a new phenomenon – it’d been around as long as people had – but neuroscience had only recently pinned it down. […] Now we knew that the inner voice was nothing more than a glitch in the brain’s circuitry.” p 12-13

“‘Now there is another choice to be made,’ the serpent said out of the silence. ‘You have accepted the invitation to know more, and while the full truth must remain obscured for a while longer, we can tell you this: You are being evaluated for membership into a sacred alliance of gifted minds. The next few weeks are a test.’ My heart was beating wildly again, out of excitement now instead of fear. The masks, the torches, the archaic speech. This wasn’t freaking Junior Beta. This was a legit secret society.” p 102

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