Book Review: If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

Inside Flap Synopsis:

Will has never been 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 panics at the thought of opening the front door.  Their world is rich and fun-loving — full of art, science experiments, and music — and all confined to their small house.

But Will’s thirst for adventure can’t be contained.  Clad in a protective helmet and unsure of how to talk to other kids, he finally ventures outside.  At his new school he meets Jonah, an artsy loner who introduces Will to the high-flying freedoms of skateboarding.  Together they search for a missing local boy, held a bedraggled vagabond, and evade a dangerous bootlegger.  The adventure is more than Will ever expected, pulling him far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood, and all the risks that everyday life offers.

I went into this book expecting it to be a whole lot different than it actually was.  I expected it to be more of a coming-of-age story, with the reader watching Will’s journey from isolation into real civilization.  Perhaps this is because I do read YA coming-of-age novels primarily, but I don’t think I initially took the book’s description the exact right way.

That being said, I still enjoyed this book.  It was fascinating, especially at the beginning, to see Will’s mind work since he had never been outside his house in his life.  I also enjoyed that Christie interspersed chapters from Will’s mother’s perspective throughout the book – not only was it refreshing to have a new point of view (because Will’s became a bit repetitive at times), but it also provided more information about their backstory in a believable way.  And that was what I was really interested in – why did his mother have agoraphobia, and how exactly did Will come into the picture in the first place?

There were several things in this book I wasn’t as impressed with, however.  First, it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I realized how old Will was supposed to be.  He seemed to be elementary school age at the beginning, and I suppose this could be attributed to his never having met another kid his age, but it was a little weird when I realized he was supposed to be twelve.  I had to reshape my thinking of the story a bit.

Second, I wish there had been more development of the friendship between Will and Jonah.  It seemed like they met and then became best friends within the space of a few pages.  I never really got to see exactly how they became friends or how their interactions became more familiar.  Those weeks were somewhat skimmed over.

Third, the premise of the book focused much more on the missing boy and the vagabond and the bootlegger than I expected.  I had assumed these were subplots to the main story of a boy who had been stifled by his mother’s agoraphobia finding his way in the world, but these characters ended up having just as much importance as Will’s mother in the story.

Finally, a lot of the story focused on Jonah and Will trying to find the missing boy, but there was never a race to the finish.  There was never really a clear motivation to find him except that it became Will’s mission.  The search was his reason for continuing to go Outside after the initial exploration, but he and Jonah dallied around for months or even a year just skateboarding and figuring life out.  And I’m not even sure completely of the timeline – how long did they wait around?

None of these things by themselves would have killed the book for me, and even all of them together didn’t quite do it.  Once I realized what the story was actually about, I enjoyed it.  I admired how Christie pulled Will’s mother’s history and the current plotline together at the end, and I made a discovery about one of the characters that made the reading exciting near the end (even though nothing much was done about this discovery once Will figured it out, too).  I will say also that Christie’s writing style was extremely enjoyable – he described Will and his world in creative ways that were fun to read.

I think the book was written for a different demographic – ie, boys around Will’s age – so who am I to say that the intended readers wouldn’t enjoy it immensely?  I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, but I wouldn’t recommend it either.  If a middle school boy wants to read, give him a Hardy Boys mystery instead.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  

Michael Christie’s Bio

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