How it Feels to Float

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Helena Fox, How it Feels to Float, PanMacmillan Australia, April 2019, 384 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk) ISBN 9781760783303

You’ll learn not to float completely away…you’ll be able to bring yourself back when you need. 

Biz has a best friend she laughs with beside the pool. She has a gang of friends she laughs with at her local high school. And she has her mum and the twins, her brother and sister to laugh with at home. Biz presents as a typical teenage girl with typical teenage girl problems, like discovering her sexuality and dealing with the aftermath of lies told by ignorant, self-serving boys. Biz is all of this and none of this. What lies beneath her surface is hidden from all those she laughs with. Helena Fox tells her story in this profoundly emotive and beautifully lyrical debut novel. 

Biz sees her dad, he talks to her and tells her about how loved she was and how much fun they had together when she was younger. This would be fine if he hadn’t have died nearly ten years earlier.  

Biz tells no one she talks to her dad, not her best friend, Grace and not her mother. It is Biz’s secret, just like how sometimes she feels like she is looking at herself and her surroundings from a distance, floating away from herself.  

When Biz has a little too much to drink at a beach party and runs from her first sexual encounter with a boy, things seem to spin out of control. The boy tells everyone they slept together and Biz suddenly loses her gang of friends. She is ostracised and isolated and stops attending school, stops getting out of bed, stops mucking around with the twins… she stops.  

With the help of her mother, Biz has to pick herself back up again. She enrolls in a photography class and makes a new friend in Sylvia, who happens to be grandmother to the new boy at school, Jasper. These two new friendships are rich and comforting to read. They develop with a deeper level of understanding and compassion and offer a reprieve from the deep sorrow and yearning she lives with after her father’s suicide.  

I found myself longing for Biz to confide in Sylvia, a wise, reflective and understanding woman. But this was not to be; instead readers are taken on a hauntingly poignant journey that sees Biz hospitalised. 

The story is told with a depth of understanding from an author who has suffered mental health issues herself. The reader cannot help but experience all of Biz’s pain, confusion, and disjointed view of the world first hand. It is as if we are given a rare insight into the internal conflict and struggle that can be hidden even from those closest to sufferers of mental illness and grief. This, coupled with Fox’s expressive linguistic style makes this a story that stays with the reader long after the last word is read. 

I highly recommend this book for audiences 16/17 years and over.  

Reviewed by Katie Mineeff 

This book was Shortlisted in the 2020 CBCA Book of the Year Awards in the Older Reader Cateogory

1 Comment

  1. I finished “How it feels to float,” on the weekend and wanted to cry at the end. Right at the end, after reading the acknowledgements and author’s final comment. It was so beautifully written and I loved Biz from the beginning. Helena Fox’s final few pages with insight into the mother’s experience and complete understanding of Biz touched my soul. It is deep but at times, funny. It is touching, but at times, confusing – trying to live Biz’s experience. I love how the book creates unexpected connections and friendships at different levels. I am displaying “How it feels to float,” as a staff pick in my secondary school Library. I wish we could make it an English study text.

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