Date Read: January 6, 2015
Source: Free review copy from Netgalley
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Genres: Mystery, adult fiction
Summary (taken from Goodreads): Following his award-winning debut collection of stories, Michael Christie's heartfelt and wondrous first novel is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for our anxiety-prone age--and marks the emergence of a stunningly gifted young Canadian writer. For readers of Mark Haddon, Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer, Heather O'Neill, Anthony De Sa, and Junot Diaz.
Will has never been Outside, at least not that he can remember. For most of his young life he has lived happily Inside with his mother, Diane, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Then one day, Will ventures Outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. What he finds instead will set him on an unexpected journey of discovery.
Will embraces the Outside and his newfound freedom with enthusiasm, and he eventually befriends Jonah, a quiet Native boy who introduces him to the most reckless and exhilarating activity he's ever seen: skateboarding. Even as Diane's fears intensify, Will finds his own fears fading and his body hardening with each new bruise, scrape, and fall. But life Outside quickly grows complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah embark on an extraordinary adventure that draws Will far from the confines of his mother's closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the criminal underbelly of small town life. All the while Diane must grapple with her greatest fear: will she be brave enough to save her son?
Full of dazzling prose and irresistible characters, If I Fall, If I Die is a beautifully tender and unforgettable story about mothers and sons, love and friendship, and learning when to protect the ones you love and when to let them fall.
Upon checking Goodreads for the genre listing, as I do for every review, I realized the third genre listed is young adult. I feel like this may be due to the low amount of users shelving the book so far - although it's third, only 6 users have marked it as YA. I realize it might (and probably will) change as time goes on and more people read the book after its release, but I also thought I should say here that this book is not young adult. Although the protagonist is in middle school, I don't think most kids that age would get as much out of the book as someone older.
The center of this book is anxiety. Will's mother has gone through a lot in her life, including the tragic loss of her entire family - even her twin brother, whose death she feels responsible for. As time went on, her fear grew, until she could no longer leave her house or even answer the door.
She never told Will not to leave the house, but of course she led by example. On the day he does leave, he realizes that outside is not as dangerous as his mother thinks. As Will grows more fearless, his mother's fears seem to multiply. How can she protect her son, the only thing she has left, if she cannot even leave her own house?
I really enjoyed this story. Although it took me a long time to read - the pacing was slow, especially in the beginning, and I normally read adult fiction pretty slowly anyway - the story had my attention from the start. Part of it had to do with my interest in psychology, and how interested I was in the anxiety Will's mother faced, but the other part had to do with the characters.
The characters felt like people. They were complex, with several sides to them, and each had a past, several of which were shared throughout the book. Seeing things through Will's eyes was wonderful, but the parts from his mother's perspective were just as great. The perspective change to "Titus" around the center of the book threw me off and I found it difficult to care for this new character who so suddenly took over their story - but by the end, the importance of his chapter was shown. I still wonder if there wasn't a better way to introduce him.
Overall, this is a great book. There are a few things that bothered me, including a part that felt incredibly unrealistic and something towards the end that felt a bit unresolved to me - neither of which I can give away without spoilers. But I think the positives outweigh the negatives by far, and I personally took a lot out of this book. I cannot help but feel it would be a very relatable book for parents as well, as Will's mother worrying over him and wanting him safe was such a central theme in the book. She had the same fears as I imagine most parents do, only amplified due to her anxiety.
I think this is one to read when you're in a patient mood, although the pacing does pick up towards the end, but it's definitely one I would recommend.