What if the son of a mother stricken with agoraphobia is raised totally indoors, sheltered from the outside world and real life? That child would be Will, a sweet, sensitive, artistic child who is strangled by the over protectiveness of a mother who can’t deal with – well, basically everything. Eleven year old Will must live within the grips of her disease which disallows everyday items such as the stove, forbids foods which might choke, and requires wearing headgear and a wet suit, all in an attempt to keep the outside world from invading their inner sanctum. Then comes the inevitable day when Will ventures out of doors and discovers that fresh air won’t kill him — That normal boys don’t wear helmets — That his masterpieces are simply ordinary drawings and he isn’t the genius his mother proclaims him to be. This is the premise of If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie.
Will embraces the Outside and sets off on his own adventures. Along with his friend Jacob, the two boys skateboard, sans helmets, throughout the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario and into the taboo waterfront, searching for clues to the whereabouts of their missing friend Marcus. It’s as if Will seeks the danger his mother espews, defiantly inviting the world to hurt him.
There is also a backstory, the curse of the Cardiel Family, of which Diane is the sole survivor. Slowly, as Diane allows herself to remember past events, we discover the secrets which continue to destroy her confidence. There are reasons she strives to keep Will safe, as if keeping him on the Inside will prevent the dangers of the Outside from snatching the life away from her precious boy. Ultimately, past events collide with present dangers as both Will and his mother find the inner courage to face the enemy who is bent on destruction.
The main problem with this book is the lengthy set up needed to allow the reader to capture the essence of life for Diane and her son. Although descriptive, it is not necessarily compelling reading. In fact, the repetitiveness of thoughts and emotions (interspersed with the true storyline), makes the book more laborious than enjoyable. This also makes it harder to pick out the essential elements, such as why an extreme panic episode is called the Black Lagoon. Slowly we are given bits and pieces of past events, but the pacing is way too pokey. When the action picks up, so does our interest. We discover there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Yet because of the disjointedness, the plot gets confusing in places. There are a lot of “what’s?” going on in our mind. However, although the ending is not a surprise, it is a satisfying resolution.
This is a complex story and I’m glad I stuck through it until the end. Three and a half stars.
I’d like to thank Crown Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.