REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
If you think today’s teens are welded to their smart phones and never seem to do anything but text, behold the dystopian future portrayed by Lauren Miller in her young adult thriller “Free to Fall” (HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 480 pages, $17.99) and be grateful.
In the near future — about a decade and a half from now — Apple and Google and Samsung and all the rest have been replaced by Gnosis, a gigantic corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes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. I see Lux as a lot like the drug soma in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel “Brave New World” in its almost universal use and its power to take away decision making.
The heroine, Aurora “Rory” Vaughn, 16, is a brainy, introverted girl who has never known her birth mother. Her mother died giving birth to Rory, who lives in Seattle with her father and stepmother.
Like just about everybody in the world and almost everyone else, Rory believes the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. Her best friend, Beck, is old school, declining to use the Lux app on his handheld device. He limits his cell phone use to texting and phone calls.
When she’s accepted in the class of 2032 at the elite boarding school Theden Academy in Massachusetts, Rory’s future happiness seems assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. She discovers her mother was a Theden student who left before graduating. She wants to discover more about the woman who left her with a baby blanket — and nothing else.
Rory learns more about the school and her mother from hacker North Pascal, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. He has a big list of wealthy clients, but he keeps busy as a barista in the town’s coffee shop.
Not long after arriving at Theden, 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.
Rory is an outstanding student, but she discovers hostility toward her from one of her teachers, Dr. Esperanza Tarsus. Rory’s roommate, the beautiful Hershey, is also an enigma to Rory. There is something about Hershey’s behavior that unsettles Rory.
With its complicated plot and appealing characters, “Free to Fall” should be a perfect match for its audience, teen-age girls. All that’s necessary is to convince these members of the short-attention Twitter and texting generation to immerse themselves in a relatively large book. I think once the target audience starts “Free to Fall” they’ll discover the old-school joys of reading a big book. Adults can enjoy the novel, too, for its insights into the thought processes of teens.
About the author
Lauren Miller wrote her first novel, “Parallel,” while on maternity leave from her law firm job and blogged about it, an experiment she called “embracing the detour” (also the name of her blog). Many people told her she was crazy. When she realized they were right, she told no one and kept writing. “Free to Fall” is her second novel.
Born in New York City and raised in Atlanta, Lauren now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You can find her online at http://www.laurenmillerwrites.com.