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Jan 23, 2016rodraglin rated this title 3 out of 5 stars
Contrived ending trips up If I Fall, If I Die Will is an eleven year-old boy and the child of a single mother Diane. Diane suffers from agoraphobia and has kept herself and her son "Inside" their house in Thunder Bay for the better part of his young life. Because he knows nothing else except what his mother has told him he accepts that going "Outside" is a death sentence. Diane has inherited the family home and they live off generous monthly support payments from her ex-husband, a successful architect. Everything, apparently, can be delivered. One day Will hears an odd bang and goes outside to investigate. He doesn't die. He meets a young Native boy, the enigmatic Marcus. This brief encounter has a profound affect on Will and he sees Marcus as his friend and someone who can teach him about the "Outside". He begins to sneak out and search for Marcus and gradually realizes he's not in imminent danger. Despite his Mother's misgivings he decides he wants to go to school, rather than continue being taught at home. He makes friends with another First Nations boy, Jonah, an acquaintance of Marcus and together they continue to search for their missing friend. Soon their search arouses the ire of some very unsavory people who inhabit the decaying waterfront and grain elevators of Thunder Bay. Author Michael Christie's writing is fresh and professional. He does a masterful job in describing Diane's illness, which is the overriding issue in the novel. His depiction of a young boy coming of age with a mother who has a debilitating mental condition is convincing. Lesser issues like the inherent racism in Canadian society toward First Nations people is dealt with subtly and without being didactic. There's even some interesting information about the sport of skateboarding. However, the story is essentially a mystery, even if it's not promoted as one, and that's where If I Fall, If I Die gets tripped up. The climax of the novel is disappointing. I got the impression the writer wrote himself into a corner and had to come up with some pretty far-fetched, out-of character actions to get out of it. Forget the unlikely coincidences, what is really disconcerting is after doing such a good job of portraying the symptoms and manifestations of agoraphobia, Christie resorts to the misguided concept that when something really, really important needs to be done the mentally ill person can be put aside their illness, at least temporarily, and take the appropriate action. The denouement is unrealistic as well; bad guys turn good, Native children actually succeed, families are reunited, the mentally ill people live together in harmony. Like so many literary novels I read, I get the impression If I Fall, If I Die started out as something else, what I'm not quite sure and neither is the author. Eventually, authors have to end their stories and so it was for Christie, but not knowing where you're going in the first place means you don't know where you'll finish. That's probably why this ending seems highly unlikely rather than inevitable.