What’s it all about?:
A heartfelt and wondrous debut about family, fear, and skateboarding, that Karen Russell calls “A bruiser of a tale . . . a death-defying coming-of-age story.”
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, help 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.
In buoyant, kinetic prose, Michael Christie has written an emotionally resonant and keenly observed novel about mothers and sons, fears and uncertainties, and the lengths we’ll go for those we love.
What did I think?:
Once again, a huge thank you to the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath for recommending me this book in a reading spa I attended with my sister, Chrissi Reads. Of course, they sold every book to us perfectly but I was particularly intrigued by the comparisons to Room by Emma Donoghue, one of my all time favourite books. Unfortunately, I think I was expecting something that reached the dizzying heights of the above mentioned novel and it ended up being a bit disappointing. This is purely in comparison to Room as I could definitely see some great qualities in the writing and characters. I have to be honest with myself however and if I judged it on its own merit alone without the pervading influence of Room, I still wasn’t completely blown away by this story which was a shame.
So as you may imagine, this is the story of a mother and her eleven year old son, Will who has never known life outside of his house. His mother is severely agoraphobic, to the extent that she suffers extreme panic attacks (which Will dubs “The Black Lagoons”) if she senses that her son or her own life is threatened in any way. This could be something as simple as changing a light bulb or running down the stairs – Will’s mother has become incredibly paranoid of the everyday challenges of life and relies heavily on her son and her relaxation tapes to keep the bad thoughts at bay. As a result, Will is home schooled and is very wary himself of the outside dangers which he finds out himself one day when tentatively venturing Outside for the first time.
It isn’t long before Will becomes desperate to be a normal boy like his new friend, Jonah and begs his mother to let him attend a normal school. Then Will’s adventures really start. Not only does he have to learn the social intricacies and interaction with other people that he has missed while being indoors but he starts to learn the true meaning of the word “adventure” and with Jonah, embarks on one of his own whilst trying to search for a missing boy and coming across some particularly shady characters. Will finally learns just how dangerous but also how exhilarating the outside world can be and discovers a lot about himself in the process.
As a coming of age story, this book is a fantastic portrayal of a young boy growing up in a very different world from which he had been originally raised in. I really did enjoy the parts of this novel that were set Inside with Will and his mother but I have to admit, she really did frustrate me at points (and I feel a complete cow by saying this), but there were passages where I just wanted to shake her as she didn’t seem to be making much effort to “get better” at LEAST for the sake of her child. She was content just to panic, put her relaxation tapes on and bury her head in the sand at her condition. Luckily, she does redeem herself near the end of the novel so I didn’t remain cross with her for too long but I have to admit, it bugged me.
I loved Will as a character and was gripped initially when he first came out of the house and had to adjust quite quickly to real-life outside of his little bubble. However, I felt the story descended quite quickly into a strange little place with odd villains where I didn’t quite understand their motive and parts of the narrative where I just wasn’t fully invested in where the story was going. As a story of Will and his mother, this was a great book but somehow, I felt it lost its way and tried to become something that I didn’t feel made a whole lot of sense. It was very much a novel of two halves for me and as a result, I found it quite a struggle to finish.
A huge thank you also to Random House UK who provided me with a digital copy via Netgalley.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
If I Fall, If I Die is the fifteenth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018!