Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember.
And he has certainly never got 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. But soon the confines of his world close in on him.
Despite his mother’s protests, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces him 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.
Publisher: Random House UK
Publication date: 12 February, 2015
Source: eGalley approved by the publisher in exchange for honest review
When browsing through NetGalley a while back, I came across If I Fall, If I Die, a debut novel by Michael Christie. The mental illness theme that seemed to be a big part of the book intrigued me, so I was quite excited when my request to read it was accepted by the publisher. I read the book last week, and although I really liked the first part of the book, I had my reservations about the rest of it.
It was very interesting to get to know Will and his mother, Diane, and especially the dynamic between the two. Will has never been outside ever since he was about five years old and he and his mother moved back to her hometown, Thunder Bay, Canada. His world view is therefore very much slanted, since all he knows is what his mother has told him, which is based entirely on her irrational fears. He thinks the Outside (always written with a capital letter) is extremely dangerous and that he can be killed at any moment.
The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die.
He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags.
These are the very first two sentences of the novel and they immediately show how Will is completely oblivious to reality at eleven years old.
My first reaction to this was to blame Diane for burdening Will with her illness. That’s also what Will does when he finds out what the Outside is really like. However, I immediately felt slightly guilty about my reaction, because it is not as if Diane likes raising her son this way — it’s her illness that makes her do so. In other words, this is an extremely complex situation.
I think Christie does an excellent job of exploring this complexity and the story really made me think about this particular mentall illness and what kind of effect it has on people — both the person suffering from it and their loved ones. This is of course a very unique situation, but it was very believable as well, partly because of the way Will reacts to his new surroundings. After he has spent quite some time Outside with his new friend Jonah and has realised it isn’t as dangerous as his mother made it out to be, he seems to think there is no danger at all, and he becomes reckless.
This is all very expertly done, but then Will and Jonah find themselves in the midst of a weird maffia-like adventure surrounding a ruthless man named the Butler. This bizarre storyline seems completely irrelevant, and doesn’t add anything to the story for me. Perhaps it is meant to show Will that the Outside can be dangerous, but that could’ve been accomplished in different ways too. This is quite an unrealistic turn of events, and I think the story could have very well done without it. It would’ve been much nicer if Christie would’ve delved into the friendship between Will and Jonah some more. I really like the dynamic between them, but I think it could have been explored a lot further.
I really did enjoy reading If I Fall, If I Die, despite the unrealistic adventure the boys embarked on in the second part of the book. Diane’s mental illness was described very well, with perspectives from both Will and herself, and Christie also touches upon some relevant social issues throughout the novel, such as discrimination and racism. If you’re particularly interested in novels about mental illness, I would recommend giving this one a go.
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