All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox

on May 22, 2019

How It Feels To Float
Helena Fox
Pan Macmillan
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Biz knows how to float. She has her 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 – because he died when she was seven – but is. So she doesn’t tell anyone her dark thoughts. She knows how to float, right there on the surface – normal okay regular fine.

But when the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone – when her dad disappears along with all comfort – might it be easier, better, sweeter to float away?

This is a mesmerising, radiant debut. It’s a story about love, grief, family and friendship, about intergenerational mental illness, and about how living with it is both a bridge and a chasm to the ones we’ve lost. Helena Fox explores the hard, bewildering and beautiful places loss can take us, and honours those who hold us tightly when the current wants to tug us out to sea.

This isn’t the easiest novel to review, because it’s not driven by a complex plot. It’s the story of Biz, a teenage girl struggling with grief, mental illness, social awkwardness, sexuality. But the situations involved are quite complex, so it’s all about the character, rather than the plot.

Biz has a small village – her mother, the twins, her best friend Grace. But she isn’t too sure about how things are with Grace now, after something that happened before school went back. Biz has a lot of dark thoughts but she never really confides in anyone about them, nor does she confess that she sees and talks to her father everywhere. He is almost like a voice that guides her and she craves that connection with him.

This is a very honest, frank portrayal of a mental illness and it’s something that I felt very interested in because I want to understand mental illness better. I know there can be a massive stigma around various forms of mental illness and of asking for help with it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone say ‘what do they have to be depressed about?’ in referring to someone well known who has gone public with a battle. I know it’s much deeper than that, an illness that doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t matter how privileged or fortunate you are. So I felt like this book was a good way to look at how such a thing can affect a teen.

Her relationship with her father forms a core part of this novel. Biz was just seven when he died – my youngest is seven so that was something I really connected with in terms of being able to understand. I didn’t lose anyone close to me until my mid teens but the fact that my child is the same age made me think of how he might cope with such a loss and the ways in which it might impact on him into his mid to late teen years. Biz sees her father constantly, he is always a presence in her life, popping in and out and it’s something she keeps to herself. Even much later in the novel when it becomes quite apparent that Biz is not okay and needing some help in therapy, she doesn’t mention the fact that she sees him to her therapist. I did wonder if it was because Biz thought the therapist might give her tools to move on from needing to see him and she didn’t want that…..or if it was just something she didn’t want to mention because it was so private to her.

I really liked the exploration of Biz’s sexuality as well, which is something she’s still trying to figure out herself. She kisses her friend Grace (and Grace’s reaction is really excellent here, she’s kind and considerate and ready to switch from finding Biz a boyfriend to finding Biz a girlfriend if that’s what Biz wants). I’m not sure Biz knows precisely what she wants but she is able to try new things and see what she feels works for her. There’s also a section involving too much alcohol and a boy on a beach, trying to fit in and being beholden to the popular group at school. Biz even starts to see Grace drift from her as Biz becomes an outcast and Grace is dating a boy within that group. It’s an excellent portrayal of high school dynamics, escalating to the point where Biz feels unable to even return to the school.

I found the friendships Biz cultivated very interesting – an elderly lady from a photography class Biz enrols in and her grandson, whom Biz went to school with, Jasper. Biz and Jasper become almost inseparable and he’s there for her every step of the way, as much as he can be, even when Biz takes a train trip out west to better understand where her dad came from. But some times are beyond Jasper and he cannot provide the help and support that she needs, but he’s still there. He’s a great character and the two of them together build something really interesting and special.

The writing in this is fantastic and really I think, gives the story the punch it deserves with such a realistic and haunting portrayal of a mental illness. It’s ethereal and beautiful but also strong and confident – a quiet calmness even, despite Biz’s sometimes churning mental thoughts. I think it definitely helped increase my understanding of how people suffering in the way that Biz is can feel underneath, even when on the surface, things seem to be okay. I really did find a lot of value in this story and I will definitely keep an eye out for Helena Fox’s next release.


Book #71

How It Feels To Float is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


2 responses to “Review: How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox

  1. Brona says:

    I loved this book in the end, but I tend to love character driven stories. The depiction of Biz’s mental health status was so convincing and heartfelt that I couldn’t not go on the whole journey with her.

  2. […] How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox. My review. […]

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