A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Free to Fall's intriguing mystery adventure is wrapped in a package that effectively introduces Milton's Paradise Lost and will get older tweens and teens thinking about free will, how we exercise it, and how advances in technology affect our decision-making processes. The boarding-school setting ensures a matter-of-fact attitude toward drinking, though the heroine, Rory, 16, doesn't overindulge, and the negative consequences for those who do are shown. The teens use strong language pretty liberally, mostly "s--t" and its variations. Rory and boyfriend North kiss quite a few times without a lot of detailed description, although one make-out session is described.
What's the story?
In the near future, 16-year-old Rory is admitted to an exclusive boarding school for the country's brightest students, virtually assuring her future among the power elite. When she learns that her mother, who died shortly after she was born, also went to Theden Academy but didn't graduate, Rory determines to learn the truth about what happened to her. She soon meets the townie North, who steers clear of social media and doesn't use the decision-making app Lux, which Rory has been relying on to decide everything from which coffee drink to order to whom to ask to the dance. As she and North start to uncover the past, Rory becomes increasingly suspicious of the powerful hold Lux exercises over millions of people, including herself. She starts to understand the importance of being free to make her own choices in life. But if she wants everyone to have the same ability to choose for themselves, she's going to have to bring down a powerful secret society and the biggest tech company in the world.
Is it any good?
With FREE TO FALL, Lauren Miller has created an intriguing mystery that adeptly gets kids thinking about the role technology plays, and should play, in their lives. She uses the classic Milton poem Paradise Lost as a catalyst and key for the heroine to uncover her past and to save us from a mindless future in which not only are we incapable of making decisions for ourselves but also we don't even want to make them. Milton's big ideas are adroitly presented and easy for kids to understand without them being dumbed down.
This is thanks largely to the relatable heroine, Rory, whose believable voice will have kids admiring the academic achievement, logic, and critical thinking that Rory uses to solve problems. She's also emotionally accessible for teens as she struggles with a lot of the same issues of friendship, love, and life choices they face. Refreshingly, it's also a satisfying one-off, without an open ending that creates blatant hopes of future installments. Free to Fall stands every bit as much on its own as Rory does when she's free to decide her own fate.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the app Lux, which makes decisions for you. If it were available in the app store today, would you download it? Why, or why not?
Were you able to figure out the answers to any of the secret society riddles before Rory did? Which ones?
Should we be free to make our own choices, even if they're wrong? In other words, should we be free to fall, or should we be protected from making mistakes?
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