It seems I have a love-hate relationship with Lauren Miller books, and all reviews of her books require GIFs (this time, Gilmore Girls, in honor of Rory). (See my review of Lauren Miller’s Parallel)
Free to Fall takes place in 2030, in a world where most allow their decisions to be guided by the decision-making app Lux.
First off, they seriously make the most boring covers for Lauren Miller books. Just faces of girls who don’t look the way I picture the main character (ESPECIALLY in the case of Free to Fall where she has freckles). And these books have a sci-fi twist so they could do fun things with them! But nope, just faces. OK, this is just a rant that has nothing to do with Lauren Miller’s writing, so let’s move on.
Let’s talk characters first. I liked Rory at first, but she got more annoying throughout the book. For someone so smart, she doesn’t have very much common sense. I figured out things before her (not the answers to the Few’s riddles or anything like that, but plot twists) and then there is the whole her and North thing, which I will elaborate on later. Of course, to be fair, I was looking for plot devices because I was reading a book and she wasn’t, but still.
I wanted to briefly mention Beck, Rory’s best friend who is prominent in the first couple of chapters but not so much after when she leaves for Theden. I loved Beck and thought he was definitely the most interesting character in the book. I would have loved more of him.
Now North. First off, his name is North, like North West (you know, Kim Kardashian and Kayne’s baby), except not really, because it’s Norvin. Who names their kid Norvin? (The same people who name their kid Hershey, I guess.) Just as a side note: the main characters were born 2012-2014, so while names like Liam, Beck, Nora, and Rory (Auora, her true full name, maybe a little less so) make total sense, because according to my Facebook news feed, these are today’s baby names (I don’t actually know any babies named Beck, but it sounds in the right vein. I do know of babies named Liam, Nora, and Rory though). Norvin and Hershey? Mmm, not so much. And yes, I get the whole unique names thing, but I kind of have a thing about too many people with too unique of names together in one place conveniently for a book (unless it’s fantasy or further-out-in-the-future-science-fiction).
Second, North is RIDICULOUSLY PRETENTIOUS. OK, to be fair, he’s actually a pretty nice guy, at least to Rory. But he also breaks the law and he acts like a modern-day hipster except he’s shunning his technology and embracing ours. Oh, and he has a Mohawk, tattoos, is hacker and a barista, doesn’t believe in vaccines, and is a high school dropout because school “isn’t for him.” HELLO, STEREOTYPE.
Let me explain my thoughts on the world-building to further explain my feelings about North. The technology feels mostly spot-on, though it probably isn’t actually advanced enough. But the general direction feels real. But the clothing trends, the word “hipster” getting thrown out once, felt so incredibly like TODAY. I understand trends come in cycles, but honestly it did not feel like a resurgence of trends to me, because there would have been a variation of the trends. I didn’t really feel there was though, with talk of Toms and Wayfarers and popped collars it just felt like TODAY.
Which leads me back to North. Other than his love of retro tech being today’s tech, he feels so much like a modern-day hipster (except hipsters don’t generally don Mohawks, but seriously, that is the most stereotypical “Oh look at me I’m different” hairstyle ever). Basically, I felt Miller took a stereotype and made him a nice guy and expected me to like him, despite the fact that he makes money off an illegal career and is a high school dropout and basically is going to have a seriously rude awakening when he is about 25 years old. I honestly don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who make poor decisions, unless it’s part of a greater character arc. Not so much here.
So now let’s put Rory and North together. This was one of the worst romances I have read in a while. I guess since Abby and Michael in Parallel, actually. The first time Rory sees North, she doesn’t find him all that attractive or interesting. But then afterwards, she’s intrigued because he concocted this great drink for her. After this second meeting with him SHE CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT NORTH. OK, teenage hormones, whateves, it happens. After meeting three when they hang out she is really into him. And then she ignores him for a while because she’s mad at him and blah blah blah and then after that she just rushes way too fast and never once do I understand why she likes him romantically. Maybe as a friend, but Beck was way cooler and their relationship was always just platonic. Honestly, if North and Rory could have just been friends the story would have been so much better. Or if we got to root for them getting together because North ended up being a guy who would be really good with Rory. Instead, any time they got “romantic” I could care less and sometimes felt a little disgusted.
And North ends up being a bit creepy. He says things that Rory completely glosses over but I did not find them OK. Once, he mentions “playing Doctor.” I don’t care the intent of the joke, that is an automatic creep alert for me. Second, he hacks into Rory’s Lux profile the day he met her. And last, he gives Rory a necklace embedded with a tracking device and camera in it towards the end of the book. It seemed the intent was for in case something went wrong with the initiation, but seriously? What if she goes to the bathroom? And if your intentions were pure, why didn’t you just tell her about it? Not OK.
Let me talk about something I did like, because part of this novel I loved, and that was the whole story line of conspiracies and clues left behind and tech companies trying to take over the world. A lot of it actually felt pretty realistic. The heavy Paradise Lost references got a bit old, but overall, everything with this plot was interesting. I also thought the psychology of fabricating the idea of “The Doubt” was really interesting.
But now that I’ve mentioned The Doubt, I can’t ignore another problem I had with the book. The Doubt felt WAY too mystic for me. It did not feel like a conscience or a gut-feeling (it was implied it could be these things), and really, not even like God. Coming from someone who believes anyone can have a personal relationship with God and believing that I do, it just felt off if the intent was that it was God. Especially since Rory was not even pursuing God, I honestly don’t believe she would hear Him that way. I’m sure there are people who think differently though, including quite possibly, Lauren Miller. But if you want to take away the God factor, then you have Rory following this voice that seems to know exactly what is going to happen and is always assuring her in ways she could not possibly do herself. I don’t know. It was just weird to me no matter what angle I looked at it from.
And now I want to talk about the ending (about the last 15%ish of the book, more specifically), without spoiling anything, I am going to say that it was first of all sloppy, and second off too Disney-esque. A lot of bad stuff happened in the story. PEOPLE DIED. But basically we find absolutely no repercussions of everything that happened.
For spoilers, highlight: So apparently after finding out the truth about her mom, her true father, and Taurus, dealing with the latter two dying, not to mention Hershey sleeping with an adult man (AND NOT PRESSING CHARGES WHAT THE CRAP), not having yet seen face-to-face the man she grew up believing was her father since she found out he wasn’t, it’s totes normal to shack up with your high school dropout boyfriend (I guess she is one now too?) in his NYC apartment that he conveniently has (for reasons that are NEVER explained) and be happy and not at all worried about ALL THE CRAP THAT JUST HAPPENED. The chick needs therapy after this. She cannot be in a good place. Boys do not fix problems. She needs her dad that she knows. She needs friends. She needs anyone whose name isn’t North. And the dove-shaped aurora? Are you kidding me? What sense did that even make?
This book has an incredible amount of potential. I was very engaged with the actual story. But the characters and sloppy ending left me wanting more. But since the plot was so promising and my enjoyment was on par with Parallel, I give it four stars.
My thoughts on Lauren Miller’s writing in general: Miller is obviously intelligent, because it’s evident in the way she writes, and I really like that. She also has very compelling ideas for stories. But her characters leave something to be desired for me. The teens she writes do not feel like real teens. I feel like she created these characters (in both her books) and tried to make them sound and act like teens. Just because Rory is a teen girl does that mean she has to be so enamored with North’s kisses or that when she thinks she might die the first thing she wants to do is rip off his pants? It didn’t feel true to her. And just because Abby is a teen girl does that mean she has to drink underage when really that just doesn’t go with the rest of her who is? I wish she would create more characters who felt more independent and are actually different from the norm, instead of pretending they are like North. Like Beck in Free to Fall or Caitlin in Parallel (even though Caitlin wasn’t my favorite character, she was actually one of the most well-rounded and interesting characters).
Content advisory: Moderate language, talk of sex but no sex scenes, mild violence, and underage drinking.
What are your thoughts on Free to Fall?