Tag Archives: Canada

Review: If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Hogarth through NetGalley.
My Review:
If I Fall, If I DieDiane is an agoraphobe and has not been outside the walls of her house in Thunder Bay, Canada for over 8 years and, therefore, neither has her eleven year old son, Will.  As the plot progresses, we learn that Diane has suffered many loses in her life and her eventual retreat into her own little world and her attempt to bubble wrap her son against danger is a result of her traumatic past experiences.

Will spends his days painting, exploring his house, and answering the door for deliverymen but he never ventures Outside.  Will’s world exists of Inside, with a capital “I” and everything else is considered Outside, with a capital “O.”  Outside is a scary and dangerous place and is full of things that can kill a small boy in an instant.

The best part of the book is the character of Will who is brave, clever and, despite his mother’s illness, a very happy boy.  At first I thought this would be an extremely tragic story because of the effects of Diane’s agoraphobia on Will.  But Will’s natural curiosity and sense of adventure are what draws him to the Outside.  He possesses an inner strength to deal with situations that many adults would shrink and hide from.  When he is made fun of at school for being different he perseveres; when one of his friend’s goes missing he insists on putting himself in danger to find him; and when his friend Angela is bedridden in a hospital because of a fatal lung disease he visits and comforts her.

Will’s best friend is an Indian boy named Jonah and Jonah introduces him to skateboarding.  I found this aspect of the book an apt metaphor for the struggles that Will faces and in turn teaches his mother to face.  Even though he is not good at skateboarding and he falls down often, he understands that the only way to conquer his board is to fall down.  His bruises will heal and he can get right back on his board and try again.

IF I FALL, IF I DIE is heart-warming, thought-provoking, cleverly-written and funny story. Michael Christie has written a fabulous first novel and I am eager to see what else he has in store for his readers.

About The Author:
Michael ChristieMichael Christie’s debut book of fiction, The Beggar’s Garden, was long listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Prior to earning an MFA from the University of British Columbia, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons. If I Fall, If I Die is his first novel.

Michael has just written a fantastic article for the “New York Times Opinionator” in which he discusses skateboarding, living with an agoraphobe mother, and becoming a parent for the first time himself.  Click here to read the full article.


Filed under Literary Fiction

Review: Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

I received and advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley

My Review:
Etta and OttoOtto Vogel comes from a family of fifteen children that live on a farm in rural Saskatchewan.  Russell, when he is nine years old, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who are neighbors of the Vogel family.  Russell plays with the Vogel children, eats with the family and does a fair share of chores on their farm and thus becomes the honorary 16th member of the Vogel family.

Otto, against the wishes of his mother, joins the army and is shipped to Europe when World War II breaks out.  Otto keeps up a correspondence with the teacher at the local school whose name is Etta.  Through their letters they fall in love and when Otto gets back to Canada they marry and have a long and happy life together.  Russell, who lives next door, becomes just as good friends with Etta as he has been with Otto.

The story flashes back from the present when Etta, Otto, and Russell are in their eighties to the younger years of the Vogel farm when Otto and Russell are children, to Otto’s experiences in World War II and to Etta’s life with her family before she meets Otto and Russell.  The writing style of the novel is very curt and direct and mimics the simplicity of the characters themselves.

When Etta is 83, she is starting to lose her memories and she decides that she has never seen the ocean and decides to walk from Manitoba to Halifax.  Along the way she meets a coyote named Russell who becomes her loyal traveling companion. For the first time in their lives, Etta, Otto, and Russell each pursue separate paths from one another.  Etta walks for months towards the east, Otto stays at home making paper mache animals and Russell goes up north in search of wildlife.

Although they have been together for their entire lives, it seems that the more they are apart, the more they lose themselves and their identities.  They each feel compelled to pursue separate goals at the end of their lives, but can they ever really break the strong ties that have held them together for so many years?

This is a heart-warming story of family, love, memory and personal identity.  ETTA, AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES is a quick and easy read but one that will resonate in your heart and memory for a long time to come.

About The Author:
Emma HooperBooks about Places and People. Songs about Dinosaurs and Insects. Research about Pop Music and Robots. Emma lives, writes, plays and teaches in Bath, England, but goes home to Canada to cross-country ski as often as she can


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Filed under Literary Fiction