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Literature / If I Fall, If I Die

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If I Fall, If I Die is a 2015 novel by Michael Christie.

Eleven-year-old Will Cardiel hasn't been outside since he was a toddler. He's spent most of his life in his house with his severely anxious, agoraphobic mother Diane, with each room named after a different city and decorated with Will's artwork. But one day, an odd banging sound draws him outside, where he meets local foster boy Marcus. When Will reads about Marcus's disappearance in the paper, he wants to solve the mystery, so he asks Diane to let him enroll in public school. There he befriends an Indian boy named Jonah Turtle, who was friends with Marcus. Jonah introduces Will to skateboarding, and the two investigate together.

If I Fall, If I Die contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The book seems to be set in The '90s, judging by the lack of internet and the mention of shoulder pads in a flashback to Will's infancy.
  • Abandoned Area: Jonah and Will spend a great deal of time searching the abandoned grain elevators and warehouses by the harbor. They even build an indoor skatepark during winter, when it's too icy to skateboard outside.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Diane's twin brother Charlie died in a grain elevator accident when they were twenty-four. Knowing how easily a loved one can be taken away meant that when she had Will, she was constantly envisioning horrible deaths for him, which may have been the origin of her anxiety.
  • Baby's First Words: Will's was "That?" while pointing at a page.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Once a hockey player whipped Jonah's face with a birch switch. The next morning, Jonah's oldest brother showed up at the hockey player's house and asked his father for a written apology. When the man refused, Jonah's brother broke his cheekbones, as well as those of two neighbors, and then sat down to wait for the police. Bullies leave Jonah alone because they're afraid of his brothers.
  • Character Tics: Diane snaps her blue elastic band against the inside of her wrist, especially when she's anxious.
  • Cope by Creating: Diane plays old folk songs on her acoustic guitar to keep her mind off her anxious thoughts.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Marcus sends Jonah a note written in blood on birch bark, which Jonah calls "typical Marcus."
  • Dedication: "For my mother."
  • Disappeared Dad: Will's father, Arthur, is a successful architect who lives in the Netherlands with his new family. Will has talked to him on the phone a few times, but they had nothing to say to each other.
  • Disposing of a Body: When Charlie was working at the grain elevator, he declared a cable sound even though he knew it was weak because he was in a hurry. The cable broke, gruesomely killing his best friend Whalen with its whip. Charlie dumped the body in the lake so Diane wouldn't see, then fled Thunder Bay in the hold of a foreign lakeboat.
  • Does Not Drive: As Diane's anxiety grew worse, she passed more and more driving-related rules for herself - no driving on roads above a certain speed limit, no nighttime driving, no left-hand turns. Finally she switched to relying on taxis, then walking, and then staying inside altogether.
  • Driving Question: Where is Marcus?
  • Dying Town: Will's hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario is suffering this fate due to the decline in the grain trade.
    MacVicar: It's different than it was in your mother's day. At that time, things made sense here. We put the bad guys in jail and sent the good guys to work. But once the grain stopped coming on those rails and went east to China, things took a turn. Now we've got the highest crime rate on the Lakes, outside Chicago. The only grain people're interested in is the fermented kind. The pourable version. The kind that helps you forget the better times and hunker down into the new.
  • Elective Mute: Jonah doesn't talk at school.
    Jonah: They expect Indians not to, so I don't want to disappoint them. Talking only digs you deeper in that place. They handcuff you with your own words. You ever say anything that brought you good there?
  • Family Theme Naming: Jonah's brothers have biblical names like Gideon, Enoch, and Hosea.
  • First Friend: During Will's first day at school, Angela Gallo asked him to steal some drawings for her from Jonah's desk. That was enough to earn her friendship. She helps him navigate the school's social environment, and to his relief she never asks questions about his mother.
  • Foster Kid: At the time of his disappearance, Marcus was on his sixth foster home. The second one was the worst - his parents kept him in chicken-wire shackles and abused him with various household tools, leaving him with a lacework of scars on his torso. The sixth one made him stay out of the house from nine to five even when he was sick because they thought he was a bad influence on the other foster kids.
  • Free-Range Children: Will's mother can't leave the house, and Jonah's parents are out of the picture, so they're free to spend their free time skateboarding and exploring the bad part of town.
  • How Dad Met Mom: Diane and Arthur met at a poetry club. That night, she attended a party with him, where the two of them had drunken sex. Arthur was married at the time, but his trysts with Diane were so brazen that his marriage didn't last long.
  • The Illegible: When Will first starts school, his cursive looks like a seismogram. When he learns how to print legibly, his teacher calls it a minor miracle.
  • Married to the Job: During Arthur and Diane's relationship, Arthur was always either at his drafting table or attending an architectural conference. He was so absent from her and Will's lives that when they split up, she found it hard to care.
  • Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency: Local crime lord Butler was a law-abiding citizen until he was hit in the head with a boom.
  • Missing Mom: The day Angela was weaned, her mother ran off with her trucker ex.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The Cardiels are named after the skateboarder John Cardiel.
  • No Social Skills: Diane's social skills quickly atrophied from spending all her time inside, which meant other people became one of her phobias. Will always answers the door when the deliverymen arrive.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: When Will gets into skateboarding, he starts papering his room with pages from skateboarding magazines. Diane worries that Will will try some of the really unsafe stunts in the pictures.
  • Potty Failure: The one time Will tried his mother's relaxation tapes with light-show glasses, he fell asleep and then wet himself. Diane sometimes wets herself, too, when her anxiety is really out of control.
  • The Reveal: Charlie wasn't actually killed by the grain elevator cable - Whalen was. His body was mutilated beyond recognition, so no one learned the truth until years later.
  • Signature Scent: Diane smells like yellowed paperbacks, cinnamon, and fresh laundry.
  • Skipping School: Jonah fakes disasters like a House Fire to get out of school. Will learns from him and starts writing in sick so he can look for Marcus with Jonah.
  • Sleeping Dummy: Will puts dirty laundry under his blanket before he sneaks out at night with Jonah.
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: The first boy Will meets outside has skin the color of the milky tea Diane drinks.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Diane narrates in chapters called "Relaxation Time."
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Referenced. Will practices sliding across the ice in a squat with one leg extended, and calls the move "the Cossack."
  • This Is Reality: Will grumbles about how children in books are always undiscovered geniuses or princes. Being outside has made it clear that he isn't a genius, despite his mother's insistence that he is.
  • Title Drop: "If I Fall, If I Die" is the title of a movie Will makes.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Will's part of Thunder Bay is divided by the highway into Grandview Gardens, where Will lives, and County Park, where most of the Indians live. Will notes that the kids from Grandview Gardens are better dressed and have better school supplies, and that teachers tend to be warmer and more attentive to them than to the County Park kids.