Will’s entire world exists inside the walls of his house. Raised by an agoraphobic mother, he’s taught to fear the world outside—and the world inside, too, wearing a helmet constantly and donning body armor just to change a light bulb. He feels safe. Then he goes outside, and everything feels strange.
It doesn’t help that what he encounters really is bizarre: Neighborhood kids steal water hoses and make explosives, and he’s lied to by a boy he doesn’t know better than to trust. Despite its dangers, the outside attracts Will. Determined to solve a particular mystery in town, he forces himself and his mother to accept his going to school, walking and playing on the outside—even skateboarding.
Michael Christie, who was a professional skateboarder before turning to fiction, does an outstanding job exploring agoraphobia and panic disorders. He describes the “Black Lagoon” of depression that envelopes Will’s mother with remarkable insight and accuracy without either glorifying or trivializing her condition. The rest of the novel is fully drawn, too, including the psyches of Will, his friend Jonah and even the bullies. If I Fall, If I Die begins within the walls of a single home, but it eventually stretches to encompass an entire town, including its history and its mysteries.
Besides the obvious themes of leaving the nest and coming of age, this novel is about pushing boundaries and striving for change while understanding that the people we love may not be able to follow us. It’s about recognizing the beauty in new relationships even when they don’t turn out the way we plan. It’s about the ways we escape who our parents raised us to be—and the ways we’re inevitably drawn back into our histories anyway.