How It Feels to Float

How It Feels to Float
Written by Helena Fox
Contemporary, Mental Illness, Friendship, #LoveOZYA
Published April 23rd 2019
384 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★★
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.
Elizabeth Martin Grey lost her father as a young girl, her single mother moving to the former industrial town of Wollongong, nestled among the coastal escarpment south west of Sydney. Since her father passed away, her mother has been blessed with two more children with the twins father now estranged. Elizabeth or simply Biz to her family and friends, is surrounded by a group of close knit friends and none more so than Grace. But things with Grace have been a little awkward of late, after Biz kissed Grace and although Biz isn't sure if she likes girls exclusively, Grace isn't interested in a romantic relationship and only wants to remain friends.

I thought it was wonderful how Grace and Biz were able to openly discuss the kiss. Grace acknowledged that the moment the two friends had shared was nice but gently explained that she wasn't interested in a relationship with another female. She was open with her own feelings and encouraged Biz to talk about her own sexuality although it's unclear whether Biz is bisexual, pansexual or questioning. When Grace begins a sexual relationship with a new boyfriend, Biz begins to feel a deep sense of loneliness, drunkenly suggesting to a male friend that they have sex but changes her mind. 

Her close knit friendship circle turn their back on her, spreading rumours of her promiscuity. Including friend Grace. I was incredibly disappointed in Grace, rather than stand up for Biz against those aggressively spreading rumours, she allowed her new boyfriend to dictate the terms of her friendship with Biz, Grace forbidden to reach out to Biz as were their circle of friends. Biz begins displaying signs of depression, isolating herself, refusing to attend school and physically unable to get out of bed. Grace tries to make amends but isn't long before she's sent off to live with her father ceasing contact with Biz entirely, reestablishing feelings of abandonment first felt after her father's death. 

Grace leaving, the rumours at school and feelings of depression have been simmering under the surface for quite some time. Biz mentions how after the death of her father, her mother often suggested counselling but it was soon forgotten and Biz never sought help. She describes her mental health as a darkness that allows her to detach from her surroundings and float. Another coping mechanism is her father appearing to share stories about moments throughout her life while he was alive. It helps anchor Biz to her sense of self and her physical being, also helping her feel loved. At first it's unclear what happened to her father, Biz is unable to speak about the events leading to his death but as the narrative intensifies, we learn that Biz's father was also unwell and it explores intergenerational mental health and the impact it has on families. 

I loved Biz's friendship with new boy Jasper, who saved her from the ocean on the night of the drunken incident on the beach. Jasper is a wonderful support for Biz, he allows her to be and never pressures her to label her illness. He becomes an anchor of sorts in her presence and often physically and emotionally supports her during her moments of dissociation and helping define reality. Sylvia is magnificent and I instantly loved her. She's a sweet elderly lady who Biz meets partaking in a local community photography class and the two become wonderful friends. I loved seeing the grandmotherly role Sylvia took in Biz's life, such a beautiful relationship that enriched both their lives.

The most striking aspect of How It Feels to Float is the mental illness portrayal. It's unflinching, courageous, it's a journey and experience that will captivate readers. I felt tangled within the moments of panic, the moments of feeling helpless and how those around her were convinced seeking help was a path to wellness, Biz continued to dissociate. It explores the role of seeking professional help and medication and although it can often help, there isn't a lifelong solution for mental health. Treatment is ongoing, it's a series of trial and error and building relationships with trusted professionals. Biz seeks psychiatric and psychological help, put on medication and asked how she's feeling and then turned back out into the world. Eventually she finds a psychiatrist who she feels comfortable with and that makes a huge difference in Biz being able to open up about her feelings, although she's still not able to speak about her father, the trigger point of her illness.

I can't even begin to describe my love for this book. Although I've never personally experienced mental illness, I've been touched by mental illness and I've seen the effects intergenerational mental illness has on families. Helena Fox has created such a prolific and confrontational narrative, a beautiful prose and unflinching account of mental illness and the lifelong journey of mental health. It's wistfully whimsical with an achingly beautiful hopefulness that reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. It's simply phenomenal and a book that has captivated me until the final page. Absolutely remarkable. 

11 comments

  1. This sounds like an emotional gut punch, which I really need to read. Beautiful review!

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    1. Thanks Samantha. The prose is absolutely beautiful and among the most authentic mental illness representation I've found in young adult novels. It's one of those reads that you'll remember for years to come.

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  2. This sounds like an incredibly powerful and emotional story. Glad it was such a hit for you!

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    1. Just amazing Tanya. It's a read that I'd highly recommend to everyone and especially those diagnosed with a mental illness. It's incredibly authentic but written so compassionately and beautifully. I'd love to see what you think of it.

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  3. Thanks for putting this on my radar Kelly! Think I've gone through a 12 month reading slump, but I've been excited to find books that are a little out of my comfort zone and this sounds perfect. Also love that it's set in Australia!

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    1. It's so lovely to see you back Tracey and hopefully you can slowly ease your way back to reading again after your graduation! This would be an incredible book to ease back into. It does explore confronting themes but so beautifully and the prose is absolutely lovely.

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  4. Oh wowzers!!!!! Fantastic review Kelly. But it sounds like this book is going to break me into a thousand pieces.

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    1. It will and you'll love every moment. It's so amazing, I can't even find words to do justice to haw beautiful the prose is. I would love to see what you think of it.

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  5. This sounds like an amazing read. I'd be upset with how Grace treated Biz too, but I suppose it is realistic to how teens are sometimes. I'm glad she was good about the kiss they shared at least! As someone whose dealt with their own mental health issues, it sounds like this book really deals with the topic well and I love that.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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  6. For some reason I find that cover a bit creepy... cheers

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  7. I hadn't heard of this book before but it sounds like an incredible read. I'm glad to hear it does such a good job with the mental illness representation too.

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