Biz knows how to float. She has her people, posse, her mum and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn’t be here but is. So Biz doesn’t tell anyone anything. Not about her dark, runaway thoughts, not about kissing Grace or noticing Jasper, the new boy. And she doesn’t tell anyone about her dad. Because her dad died when she was seven. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface – normal okay regular fine.
How it Feels to Float by Helena Fox is a captivating debut novel about a young teenager who is struggling to cope with the death of her father. The book explores mental illness, grief, family, relationships, and sexual identity.
Biz’s father died 10 years earlier, but she sees him all the time. At school, at home, in her bedroom. He speaks to her and they spend time together, and she blames herself for his death. Both of them share a history of mental health — her father was ill for a long time, and was often absent. Biz is very much like her father, struggling to cope with her undiagnosed mental illness. She often feels like she’s floating, and like she can’t control her life or her decisions.
17-year-old Biz is both strong and fragile. Her mental illness and depression manifests itself in the form of hallucinations, panic attacks and disassociations. She’s an unreliable narrator, because others remember conversations differently to how she told us the conversations went. She suffers from memory loss, or perhaps she’s blocking out her memories because it’s too painful to process what’s happening to her.
“The new guy’s name is Jasper Alessio. He is tall and narrow. He has a strange gait, a limp, like his right leg is too slow to keep up — a stubborn dog not done with its walk. He has longish hair like everyone else. It goes over his eyes.”
Biz is on a journey to better understand herself, but she’s also on a journey to better understand her father. Along with Jasper, her new friend from school, the two pair up to discover — both metaphorically and literally — more about Biz’s dad and where he came from.
The biggest strength of the book is the writing. It’s exquisite — gorgeous sentences crafted to perfection. You can’t help but sit and finish the book, devouring each chapter and paragraph. There’s a poetic rhythm to Helena’s words. They flow so easily, and the writing is so lyrical and beautiful.
“The twins pull on their uniforms and complain about their socks (too tight! too itchy!). Mum assembles a limp salad for lunch and tries to find her car keys. Sylvia calls – I haven’t spoken to her since class ended. She’s rung me and I haven’t replied, but today I see her name on my screen and in a rush of birthday goodwill, finally answer.”
How it Feels to Float also explores sexual identity. At the beginning of the book, Biz has just kissed her best friend Grace, but the feelings are unrequited. Biz isn’t sure of what (or who) she wants, but this isn’t a central focus of the story. She’s not sure of her sexuality, and that’s okay. It’s not something she needs to figure out right now, but when she’s ready.
“A heart is a mystery and not a mystery. It hides under ribs, pumping blood. You can pull it out, hold it in your hand. Squeeze. It wants what it wants. It can be made of gold, glass, stone. It can stop anytime.”
How it Feels to Float is an honest portrayal of life with mental illness. The book will appeal to all readers, young and old. The writing will lure you in, but the characters will keep you enthralled. It’s a gorgeous book — well worth the read.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
How It Feels To Float
Pan Macmillan Publishers