Several years ago, I read Parallel by Lauren Miller. While I overall didn’t love it because of some logic-lacking scenarios, I still really enjoyed the concept, the characters, and even some of the philosophizing – basically everything except for the fact that some of her plot lines just didn’t make sense. Still, I thought I’d see if she had written anything else, and all the way back in 2016 when I read Parallel, I added Free to Fall to my TBR. And, four years later, I actually read it!
Set in the not-so-distant future, Rory’s world doesn’t look super different from ours. It’s no big surprise to learn that people have become even more addicted to their cell phones than ever (now mostly called “handhelds”). In particular, over the last several years a specific app has grown in popularity – Lux analyzes everything to give the optimal results to every decision. Instead of wondering what to wear, just ask Lux. No more agonizing over what to have for lunch, what time to leave for your dentist appointment, or trying to decide which classes you should take next semester – Lux’s algorithm means it’s conclusion is never wrong. While not every depends on Lux (Rory’s best friend routinely does the opposite of whatever Lux suggests, just for kicks), it’s a big part of everyday lives.
The story begins when Rory is accepted to a prestigious high school. A boarding school for juniors and seniors in high school, it has a reputation for sending its students on to colleges and careers that most people only dream of having. Getting into the school means that Rory has to move from her home in the Pacific Northwest to the campus in western Massachusetts. Just before she leaves, her dad takes her out for a farewell supper – and tells her that Rory’s mother, who died when Rory was born, also attended Theden. He gives Rory a mysterious letter, leaving Rory with more questions than answers.
When she arrives on campus, Rory does her best to settle in, but in between meeting up with a townie boy and being initiated into a secret society, things are a lot busier than she anticipated – especially when things begin to take a more sinister turn.
There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book. At 469 pages it did have its slow spots, but overall the pacing was good. Rory herself was a likable protagonist, although a bit slow on the uptake from time to time. I enjoyed the concept of stopping the dystopian society before it began.
Negatives – a weirdly high body count, some logical flaws, and one of those Snape-scenarios where the adult who has been hating on you actually turns out to be your behind-the-scenes ally! Um. No thank you.
However, once again I appreciated Miller’s philosophy. This book felt weirdly religious, but not preachy, if that makes sense. Part of the introduction of Lux to society at large is tied in with discouraging people from listening to that small voice inside – now called the Doubt, people who hear/listen to that voice are considered mentally ill. After all, who would listen to a voice that tells you to do crazy, selfless things? But listening to that voice is a huge part of what makes us human. And, as one of the characters points out – “Selfless people are impossible to control.” When people start doing illogical things that benefit others instead of themselves, the entire algorithm for controlling that population begins to fall apart.
Not a perfect book, but one I felt was well worth reading. It got a little ridiculous and rushed at the end, but overall an enjoyable 4* read.