Author: Michael Christie
Publisher: Hogarth, The Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects. Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers. If I Fall, if I Die is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age.
If I Fall, If I Die starts out so strongly. A woman wracked with anxiety raises her son Inside. The world is Outside. It’s something to be feared. Outside is a place where people are constantly in danger, only an instant from death. Will grows up afraid. His mother’s fears dictate what he plays with, what he sees, what he can do around the home. He trusts in her instinct and it’s only as he grows older that his curiosity begins to grow. The world Outside becomes necessary to navigate as Will grows up into an adolescent.
The story of Will’s mother’s anxiety is absolutely fascinating. She’s caught, paralyzed in a world of fear. Her anxiety overwhelms her. Christie offers us a glimpse into her mind, sharing with us the overwhelming terror and the helplessness this woman faces. She transfers a lot of anxieties to her son and as a reader, it’s captivating to observe this little boy who grows up completely sheltered and isolated. It’s sad to see him alone, yet he’s perfectly happy and innocent, and in his mother’s eyes, totally safe.
It’s quite soon after Will ventures Outside that I began to lose interest. Christie is an excellent writer. He conveys mental illness in a way that is so vivid and real. He puts you right in the heads of his characters. But for me, Wills adventures on the outside become absurd for a young boy of twelve or thirteen. He unknowingly, while searching for a boy that he thinks is his friend, gets involved in a crime ring in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The men who operate this illegal grain alcohol business seem to have no issue killing little kids all over the place. It seemed very Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys to me: a little cheesy and a kid solving crimes in very not plausible way.
I found Titus to be the most obvious character. It felt like the author was trying to make it a big mystery who Titus is, but I saw exactly who he was right from the moment he’s first introduced. The way that he’s brought into the story is very abrupt and he suddenly becomes a main character. I won’t ruin the story by giving away who Titus is, but you’ll know immediately. I wish that he’d been disguised a bit better. I like being surprised or caught off guard in a story, but you can see Titus coming from a mile away.
Overall, not a bad story. The anxiety and the way that Christie gets you inside each character’s head is quite well done. I didn’t love If I Fall, If I Die, but I didn’t hate it. It was just an ok read.