Rory Vaughn happily lives her life guided by Lux, an app that makes most of her decisions for her – from things as simple as what coffee to order or what music she should like to larger questions like what school to attend and whom she should date. It’s easy and comfortable. Then she meets North, the handsome outsider who refuses to use Lux and finds herself drawn to him despite the fact he is the complete opposite type of guy from what Lux would suggest for her. As she begins to think for herself, she starts to find answers to puzzles in her family’s past, secrets that involve her new school and the computer giant, Gnosis, creators of Lux. What happens to those who blindly follow the guidance they get from a device. What if the organization behind Lux has its own agenda? Is there room for Independent thought?
Many of us are already on the path to something like Lux. Online maps guide us to the nearest coffee shop. Social book sites like Goodreads tell us what to read next. Review sites tell us where we should eat. It’s a short step to an all-in-one app like Lux. People can spend more time interacting with their device than with the people around them. Search engines and news feeds guide us to certain sites and information based on formulas we can’t begin to understand. What do we miss? What do we give up when we rely on apps to guide our choices? What happens if the corporations behind the apps manipulate the results for their own ends? Free to Fall explores these questions while following the growing romance between Rory and North.
As YA romances go, Free to Fall is refreshing in that there is no real love triangle. But that doesn’t mean the path to love is a smooth one. Rory has to learn to trust her friends and North. She can’t rely only on herself. The pacing is a bit slow, a series of consecutive puzzles for Rory to solve where each answer raises new questions. In that respect it reminded me a bit of Matched by Ally Condie.
Pros: Rory’s “Plato Practicum” class raises the complex question of how to place value on a human life. The title references Milton’s Paradise Lost where free will is also the freedom to fall, a literary allusion that adds depth to the story. The scenario is plausible, both the use of an app to guide decision making, and the questions about how decision algorithms, like those in search engines, prioritize options. Now they may guide you to targeted ads, but how might they be abused to guide your actual decisions? Another plus is that this appears to be a stand-alone book.
Cons: Some aspects of the plot are predictable. The rich and powerful are in a conspiracy to control everyone else. The handsome, dark “bad boy” is really the good guy while the golden boy is problematic. Miller goes a bit overboard on the bad boy stereotype for North. The beginning of the romance isn’t entirely believable. Rory is extremely cautious in everything but goes off alone with a guy she doesn’t know because of some nebulous connection she feels. The early attraction feels like a forced plot point. But then the romance grows in a more realistic manner, with the expected misunderstandings along the way. The pacing felt a bit slow for me, with little action until the end when everything wraps up very quickly and a bit too neatly.
All in all, Free to Fall is a solid book that should appeal to a broad audience. The future setting is near enough to appeal to fans of contemporary books with a bit of an edge that will appeal to fans of dystopian stories.
Three and half stars
I received a free advance copy of the book in return for an honest review.