A GIRL FALLS FROM THE SKY. FROM THE TOP OF A VERY TALL BUILDING. BASICALLY THE SKY. IF ONLY SHE HADN'T GONE UP THERE. IF ONLY SHE HADN'T TALKED TO HIM. IF ONLY BEING A TEENAGER WEREN'T SO DRAMATICALLY DRAMATIC. IF ONLY THIS WASN'T JUST THE BEGINNING OF A SERIES.
Spoiler alert: This is a YA novel. I was not expecting this to be a YA novel. The cover art is much better than one would normally expect from a YA novel, plus I heard about it through The Skimm, so I had mentally given it a little more cache. (Not that there's anything wrong with YA - some of my favorite books and websites are YA. But one should really be prepared to dive into the morass of hormones and feels of the modern YA.)
The story is written in third person, but from the perspectives of five characters (four girls, one boy). It is the future, a huge tower has been built where Central Park used to be, and it houses about a million people. Many of those people are teenagers, who live incredibly dramatic and fraught lives.
But not, unfortunately, truly complex or interesting lives. And this is why the book was a disappointment - there is a lot of drama, there's some intrigue; there's some good world-building and internal technology logic. But there's not much depth. The writing was solid enough to carry me to the end of the book, though the timeline is unclear - some of the events are happening simultaneously to different characters, and it took me a while to connect that; I mean, are there still weekends in the future? Who knows. I expect there are some 15-year-olds out there just lapping this up, and twenty years ago, one of them would probably have been me. But for all this tower is a literal metaphor for the crushing weight of the wealthy on the lives of the poor, there's little learning, hugging, teaching, or real use of the metaphor of this tower. Even the tagline regarding The higher you are the farther you fall isn't really apropos, since the one who falls is not one who really needed to be taken down a notch or thousand.
[spoilers from here as I recap the entire plot]
Avery is genetically designed to be flawless; she lives on the top floor, the one with access to the roof. The roof that's two miles into the sky yet has only ONE railing. Her one flaw (ONE!) being that she was a lonely child, her parents adopted her a brother, and she has now at the ripe age of 17 realized she is in love with him. His name is Atlas, which might mean that he is bearing the weight of a world of problems, but actually just relates to the fact that he's been gallivanting around the globe for nearly a year. But no one knows why he left! And now he's back! Mysteriously!
(Okay, I'll tell you: he left because after doing sex with Avery's best friend, he realized he'd never get over being in love with his [adopted, remember, it's not gross] sister. I had hoped that he'd get his own POV chapters and have something really interesting to carry him around the world, but nope, just requited incest love.)
Rylin is the most rounded and, to me, relateable member of the ensemble. Her dad is MIA and her mom died several months back of a sickness, so now she's dropped out of school so she can work and take care of her little sister. She gets pulled out of a sweet drug party on the lowest floors to be a maid for a dude named Cord on the highest floors. She steals and sells drugs, she slaps and kisses, she works and has to get her boyfriend out of jail before breaking up with him, and she ends up on the roof at the end of the book. Oh, and she is very pretty with striking green eyes.
Watt is the only POV character with a penis, and also with an artificial intelligence computer in his head (which he designed - he's a computer genius but bad with girls! But he has charming dark hair and eyes and is tallish and handsome!). The AI - or, quant, in the local parlance - is illegal, but don't worry, it's well-hidden - IN HIS OWN BRAIN. Seriously, he managed to get it into a very small processor that requires no maintenance or an external cooling fan, surgically implanted it into his brain, and can communicate with it telepathically. I liked him, though. He's hired by Leda to spy on Atlas, in the course of which he falls for Avery, then discovers Avery's (and Atlas's) secret, and therefore is sort of the key to everyone's downfall. Well, him and Leda's being on drugs (sadly not the helpful pharmaceuticals she probably needs). He and Rylin are never introduced; must be saving that for Book 2: Tower of Terror.
Leda is the unfortunately named best friend of Avery, who is pretty but not quite as pretty as the other rich kids. She spent the summer in rehab after going over the deep end when she boned Atlas in a hot tub in the Andes (her first time, even; I can think of sexier and more comfortable ways to lose one's virginity, but whatever Leda, you do you). She doesn't tell anyone about the rehab. Her parents know, but still let her go to parties, and even when she TWICE comes home drunk from them, still just sort of shake their head and say "um please stop." She doesn't tell anyone about the Atlas sex or obsession. He rejects her, though, and her friendship with Avery crumbles, and she goes back to the drugs which she started taking because they made her do better on tests and be more confident at parties and suddenly we're in Limitless and Bradley Leda Cooper has just connected all the somewhat disparate strands of the book! To the roof for a confrontation!
Eris is Avery's other best friend (yes, Avery calls each of them her best friend, unironically, in her internal musings), and she is also bonkers rich and nearly as pretty as Avery, except naturally. But when doing a routine DNA test related to her trust fund (like you do), she learns that she's not her father's daughter (perhaps her name is an ironic play on heiress?). So she and her former-model mother have to move downtower by about 800 floors, and it's, like, so hard to not buy all the things and have to live in a stinky little apartment. Oh also identity crisis, I guess, but mostly she's ashamed of not being able to go to the country club, and refuses to tell her friends what's happening. So of course the truth comes out at her birthday party, which Avery throws for her. Then she and Cord break up, and she falls for a cute Latina that lives in the netherlevels with her. It's very sweet, and the Latina gets her own POV paragraph at the very, very end. Which is at Eris's funeral. DUN DUN DUN
See, Eris learns that her father is actually Leda's father, but a meeting with said second daddy is MISUNDERSTOOD and so Leda thinks that he is now Eris's SUGAR daddy and oh noes let's just set the whole tower on fire. Or maybe just kinda accidentally push someone off the roof.
Because Leda knows everyone's secrets (due to taking all the drugs and also giving drugs to Watt), she convinces the three witnesses to say that Eris fell because she was drunk. But Latina Novia knows that Eris wasn't drunk because they talked right before Eris went up to the roof! So that's driving us into the second book. Assuming any of us really care what happens to the rest of these kids - Rylin thinks she's in love with Cord but his brother will send her to jail if she tells him or something, so that's looking like just more angst before they overcome this Tragic Misunderstanding. Watt is never gonna end up with Avery, and it would be pretty twisted if he hooked up with Leda. She needs another stint in rehab and perhaps some real friends and parents. Poor Eris had the most character growth, and she's the one who ate it at the end. And Avery and Atlas should probably just take themselves to Fiji so they can hump each other without the stares of the world, except for how Avery doesn't want to embarrass her entirely absent parents. *gag*
I got this book for $1.99 through a BookPerks promo, but I don't think I'd pay that much for the sequel. Or, as is more likely because this is YA, the next two sequels. Ugh.