Review: If I Fall, If I Die by Michael ChristieIf I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie
Published by McClelland & Stewart on January 20th, 2015
Genres: Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: NetGalley
Rating: five-stars

The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die. Will has never been Outside, at least not since he can remember. For most of his young life he has lived happily – and safely – Inside his small house with his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who panics at the thought of opening the front door. But Will’s curiosity can’t be contained. Clad in a hockey helmet to protect himself from unknown dangers, he finally ventures Outside – and braces himself for disaster. What he finds instead will change everything. Will embraces his newfound freedom and soon befriends Jonah, an artistic loner who introduces him to the high-flying thrills of skateboarding. But life Outside quickly grows complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will is pulled further away from the confines of his closed-off world and thrust headfirst into the throes of early adulthood and the criminal underbelly of city life. All the while his mother must grapple with her greatest fear: will she be brave enough to save her son?   In dazzling, kinetic prose, Michael Christie has written a beautifully tender and emotionally resonant story about family and friendship, overcoming our fears, and learning when to protect the ones we love and when to let them fall.From the Hardcover edition.

The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die.

Were you raised by overly anxious parents? Did you ever restrain from doing something trivial, so you could spare them an irrational worry? Did you do that so often that it hurts? If so, If I Fall, If I Die will strongly resonate with you.
The first novel of Michael Christie tells the heartbreaking story of Diane Cardiel, a mother trapped in her house with agoraphobia. Her son, Will, believes that putting a foot “Outside” might kill him on the spot. One day, the boy is lured outside by the sound of an explosion and realized he can survive being outside his home. Then Will starts an exploration of the world that will also reveal his family past, the society and history of Thunder Bay and the real meaning of danger. In the meanwhile, Diane’s cocoon collapses.

First thing I loved in If I Fall, If I Die was the alternate point of view between Diane and her son, and the way it shows the intricacy of their life.
On one side, the reader follows Will and his candid, fearful perception of the world. The first part of Will’s story — when his worldview suddenly shatters — is absolutely remarkable. Will learns with bewilderment that you can move with speed on a skateboard and not die. Fall from it and not die. Bleed and bruise and not die. He also learns to put his skills in perspective and that other kids may do better than him. He finally discovers that “normality” is not what he thought and that he might be the strange boy.
Will’s exploration is beautifully written and heartbreaking, described in a way that you can assess each situation before Will and see how this little boy is defenceless against the world. If you enjoyed Room by Emma Donoghue, no doubt you will love this part of the book since little Jack and Will have a lot in common.
On the other side, Diane sinks deeper and deeper into anxiety. For so many years, she tried to shelter herself and her son from danger in her house, a microcosm ruled by irrational terrors. Now her son is stepping out of the house and there’s no restraining him. Her introspection – an attempt to rationalize and smooth her panic – makes painful memories resurface. Her story is that of a family’s dissolution in absurd and tragic accidents.

However, there is much more to If I Fall, If I Die: the novel approaches a wide range of subjects and show how they impact each other.
First, Will’s story brings up the theme of extreme anxiety and its effect on a child. It’s easy to understand how being secluded is a limitation to a child’s potential but the book takes a different angle and shows how the excess of “protection” made him more vulnerable to the outside world: the boy has no clue about what’s dangerous or not and lack any social skills that would allow him to distinguish malicious and benevolent people. Ironically, when Will discovers that what her mother calls dangerous is actually trivial, he starts discarding real danger, thinking they are exaggerations as well.
Second, there is a strong theme about Thunder Bay’s economic collapse and how it affected not only the Cardiel family but the city’s population and landscape.
Finally, If I Fall, If I Die tells the reader about racism and discrimination against First Nations people from the time of Diane’s childhood to Will’s. The boy learns about a multitude of social injustices by making friend with a First Nations orphan who, by the way, will only talk to him due to Will’s complete lack of prejudices.

I absolutely loved If I Fall, If I Die. Will’s exploration of Thunder Bay, his mother’s emerging past, and kids disappearing in the city all come together to create a mystery around the Cardiel family. The novel is as much a thriller as a social critic: social injustice, racism, parenting and mental illness, how children relate to death, and even the access to freedom through skateboarding. This book has much to say and much to teach. Don’t miss such a griping and thought-provoking story!

Also, many many thanks to One More Page… and McClelland & Stewart for allowing me to win a signed hardcover copy of this book!