A deeply hopeful YA novel about living with mental illness that's perfect for fans of Girl in Pieces
"Profoundly moving . . . Will take your breath away." Kathleen Glasgow, author of Girl in Pieces
Biz knows how to float. She has her people, her posse, her mom 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 surfacenormal okay regular fine.
But after what happens on the beachfirst in the ocean, and then in the sandthe tethers that hold Biz steady come undone. Dad disappears and, with him, all comfort. It might be easier, better, sweeter to float all the way away? Or maybe stay a little longer, find her father, bring him back to her. Or maybemaybe maybe maybethere's a third way Biz just can't see yet.
Debut author Helena Fox tells a story about love and grief, about inter-generational mental illness, and how living with it is both a bridge to someone loved and lost and, also, a chasm. She explores the hard and beautiful places loss can take us, and honors those who hold us tightly when the current wants to tug us out to sea.
"Give this to all your...friends immediately." Cosmopolitan.com
"Mesmerizing and timely." Bustle
"Nothing short of equisite." PopSugar
"Immensely satisfying" Girls' Life
* "Lyrical and profoundly affecting." Kirkus (starred review)
* "Masterful...Just beautiful." Booklist (starred review)
* "Intimate...Unexpected." PW (starred review)
* "Fox writes with superb understanding and tenderness." BCCB (starred review)
* "Frank [and] beautifully crafted."BookPage (starred review)
"This book will explode you into atoms." Margo Lanagan, author of Tender Morsels
"Helena Fox's novel delivers. Read it." Cath Crowley, author of Words in Deep Blue
"This is not a book; it is a work of art." Kerry Kletter, author of The First Time She Drowned
"Perfect...Readers will be deeply moved." Books+Publishing
About the Author
Helena Fox lives in Wollongong, Australia, where she runs creative writing workshops for young people. She's a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. How It Feels to Float is her debut novel. She can be found at www.helenafoxauthor.com
Read an Excerpt
At three in the morning when I can’t sleep, the room ticks over in the dark and all I have for company is the rush of words coming up fast like those racehorses you see on television, poor things, and when their hearts give out they are laid on the ground and shot dead behind a blue sheet.
At three a.m., I think of hearts. I think of candy hearts and carved-tree hearts and hummingbird hearts. I think of hearts in bodies and the rhythm inside us we don’t get to choose.
I lay my hand over mine. There it is.
It beatbeats beatbeatbeats skipsabeatbeatbeat
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.
People scratch hearts into benches, draw them onto fogged windows, tattoo them on their skin. Believe the story they tell themselves: that hearts are somehow bigger than muscle, that we are something more than an accidental arrangement of molecules, that we are pulled by a force greater than gravity, that love is anything more than a mess of nerve and impulse—
In the dark.
In my room.
I open my eyes, and Dad’s sitting on the edge of the bed.
“You need to stop,” he says.
What? I squint at him. He’s blurry.
“The thinking. I can hear it when you breathe.”
Dad’s wearing a gray sweatshirt. His hands are folded in his lap. He looks tired.
“You should sleep like you did when you were small,” he says. He looks away, smiles. “Your tiny fingers, tucked under your chin. There’s a photo . . .” Dad trails off.
Yeah, Dad. I’ve seen it.
“The one of us in hospital, after you were born—”
Yeah. The one just after Mum got her new blood and you fainted and they gave you orange juice. The one where Mum’s laughing up at the camera as I sleep in her arms. Yeah. I’ve seen it.
Dad smiles again. He reaches across to touch me, but of course he can’t.
That photo has been on every fridge door in every house I’ve ever lived in. It sits under a plumbing company magnet and beside a clip holding year-old receipts Mum can’t seem to throw away.
The photo was taken an hour after I came bulleting out of Mum so fast she had to have a transfusion. In the picture, I look like a slug and Dad looks flattened, like he’s seen a car accident. But Mum’s face is bright, open, happy.
All the other photos are in albums on our living room bookshelf, next to the non-working fireplace. The albums hold every picture of me Dad ever took until he died, and all the ones of me Mum took until smartphones came along and she stopped printing me onto paper. I’m now partly inside a frozen computer Mum keeps meaning to get fixed, and on an overcrowded iPhone she keeps meaning to download.
And I’m in the photos friends have taken when I’ve let them and the ones the twins have taken with their eyes since they were babies. I’m in the ocean I walk beside when I skip school and in the clouds where I imagine myself sometimes. And I’m in the look on my friend Grace’s face, a second after I kissed her, five seconds before she said she thought of me as a friend.
I blink. Dad’s gone again. The room is empty but for me, my bed, my walls, my thoughts, my things.
It’s what—four in the morning?
I have a physics test at eight.
My ribs hurt. Behind them, my heart beatbeats beatbeatbeats beatskipsabeat
My name is Elizabeth Martin Grey, but no one I love calls me that.
The Martin is for Dad’s dad who died in a farm accident when he was thirty and Dad was ten.
I was seven when Dad died. Which means I had less time with Dad alive than Dad had with his.
There’s never enough time. Actually, there’s too much and too little, in unequal parts. More than enough of time passing but not enough of the time passed.
Ratio of the time you want versus the time you get (a rough estimate)—
1 : 20,000.
Ratio of Dad’s time as the son of Martin : as the living father of Biz : as my dead dad, sitting on the edge of my bed telling me stories—
1 : 0.7 : ∞.
Monday morning, 7:30, and it’s so hot the house feels like it’s melting. Cicadas scream through the windows. The dog pants on the kitchen floor. I had a shower five minutes ago and already I’m sweating through my shirt.
“Ugh,” I say, flopping over the kitchen counter, crumpled uniform on, shoes untied.
Mum reads my face and sighs. She’s making breakfast for the twins. “Be grateful you get to have an education, Biz.” She waggles a spatula. “Not everyone’s as lucky.”
I peer at her. “You might have read me wrong, Mum. Maybe I meant, ‘Ugh. How I wish school lasted all weekend, I have missed it so very much.’ ”
I’m a month into Year 11, which is ridiculous because I am nano and unformed but I’m still supposed to write essays about Lenin and Richard III and urban sprawl. Year 11 is a big deal. We are only seconds away, the teachers say, from our final exams. The teachers can’t stop revving us up about our impending future.
This is a big deal! say the teachers of English, science, art, maths, music, geography, and Other Important Subjects in Which We Are Not Remotely Interested But Are Taking So We Can Get a Good Mark.
You need to take it seriously!
You need to be prepared!
You need to not freak out, then have to go to the counselor because we’ve freaked you out!
I open the fridge. “I’m going to sit in here, okay? Just for a minute. Let me squat next to the broccoli.”
Mum laughs. She’s making banana pancakes. Billie and Dart drool over their waiting plates. The twins have the morning off school. They’re going to the dentist! They love the dentist—it’s where Mum works, so they get extra toothbrushes, and as many little packs of floss and toothpaste as they can carry in their hands.
“Are they ready yet?” says my brother, Dart, six years old.
“Come on, Mum! I’m starving todeath,” says my sister, Billie, nineteen minutes younger than Dart.
“Give me a second,” says Mum. “A watched pancake never boils.”
She flips one over. It looks scorched. Mum doesn’t love cooking.
I can’t see how she can be anywhere near a stove in this heat. I grab some coconut yogurt and grapes out of the fridge.
“Did you study for your test?” Mum says.
“Absolutely,” I say, and it’s true, if you count watching YouTube videos and listening to music while reading the textbook studying. I don’t know if I’m ready—there’s the lack of sleep thing, and the not-having-spoken-properly-to-Grace-since-I-kissed-her thing, which makes today impossible and complicated before it even begins.
I hug Mum goodbye and smooch the twins’ cheeks as they squirm.
I grab my bike from the shed, ride it for thirty seconds before I realize the front tire is flat.
Ah, that’s right.
When did the tire go? Friday? No, Thursday.
Shit, Biz! You had one job.
A magpie laughs from a nearby tree. His magpie friend looks down, then joins in.
I could ask Mum to drive me but I know what she’d say: “Do I look like a taxi, Biz?”
I could skip school, but then I’d miss my test and ruin my impending future.
I shove the bike back in the shed. And start walking.
I live with Mum and the twins in Wollongong, in a blue-clad house on a street wallpapered with trees.
We moved here a couple of years ago, after moving to a lot of other places. We’re one and a half hours south of Sydney. The city is not too big, not too small; it’s just right for now, says Mum. The city sits beside the sea, under an escarpment. The sea pushes at the shore, shoving under rocks and dunes and lovers. Craggy cliffs lean over us, trying to read what we’ve written. The city is long like a finger. It was a steel town once.
There, that’s the tour.
When I was seven, Mum, Dad, and I lived up north, near Queensland—in the Australian jungle, Mum likes to say. She says the mosquitoes were full on, but I don’t remember them.
I remember frogs click-clacking at night in the creek at the bottom of the hill. The house was wooden; it had stilts. The backyard was a steep tangle of eucalypts and ferns and figs and shrubs.
You could see hills like women’s boobs all around. I’d wake up and hear kookaburras. Light would come in through my curtainless windows and lift me out of bed. I’d run in to Mum and Dad’s room and jump on them to wake them up.
I had a puppy. I called him Bumpy.
Our street is flat now. It goes past a park where I walk the dog and he sniffs the shit left by other dogs. I can walk to school in fifteen minutes or I can walk straight past it and go to the sea. Or, if I want to be a total rebel, I can go the opposite direction and in fifteen minutes end up in a rainforest, under a mountain, gathering leeches for my leech army.
On the walk to school, the cicadas keep me company. They scream from one huge gum tree to another. I pass the community center. I pass the park. I get to the end of the cul-de-sac and wait under the bleaching sun to cross the freeway.
Traffic bawls past. I can feel my skin frying. I can feel cancer pooling in my freckles. I can feel the road tar melting under my feet as I scurry across the road.
Past the freeway there’s a vet, a pub, and a train station. Every day I have to cross the train tracks to get to school. Every time I think,What if the signals are wrong, and a train comes out of the blue and hits me as I cross?
A woman walked against the signal once. Not here, but close enough it might as well be here. She was in a rush, they said; she ignored the ringing bells, the dropping barrier. She got halfway and thought better of it. She turned back. The train came.
Every time I cross the tracks, I think of her and try not to think of her.
I’ve traced and retraced her last moments in my head. I have googled her and I know the names of her family, the job she had, the music she listened to, and the last concert she saw before she died. I can feel the tightness of her skin when she saw the train, and how sweat sprang up a moment before the train hit—
and how our pupils widened
and turned my eyes to black
and in that infinite, molecular moment, I can’t remember if I meant to cross, or have paused on the tracks and am waiting here—
I turn my head. Dad’s walking beside me, barefoot, in his running shorts and KISS T-shirt.
“Do you remember your first train ride?”
No. I don’t remember that, Dad.
“It was a steam train. You were four. We went through a rainforest! We went really high up a mountain, and visited a butterfly sanctuary. And you flapped around like a monarch. You were beautiful.”
Is that right, Dad?
“You should flap around. Try it, Biz; it’ll shake off the frets.”
I look down. I’m over the train tracks and past the station. I’m on the path; it opens in front of me, green grass on both sides, the sun beaming.
I think of butterflies. I think of flying.
He’s gone by the time I reach the school gate.
I walk into physics just as Ms. Hastings is handing out our tests. Ms. Hastings gives me ayoung lady, you’re late look. I give her a tell me about it and have you noticed I’m swimming in a pool of sweat look. Ms. Hastings raises an eyebrow. I sit at my desk.
Ms. Hastings lays our tests facedown. She does the regular threats: “You must not look at anyone’s work!” and “Put away your phones!” and “Your time starts now.”
We flip our pages over.
Turns out, I am ready for the test. My brain fires up and the neurons make my hand move and the formulas come out like good little ponies at a show.
Most of my tests are fairly easy, which isn’t me boasting; it’s just a statement of fact. Mum says I might have a photographic memory, which is good for Mum because she often forgets her PIN numbers and passwords.
Mum could be right. All I have to do is look at something and it sticks. Sometimes, the image repeatrepeatrepeatrepeats, like a GIF I can’t turn off.
The room fills with the buzz of numbers.Pi scuttles over our papers, theorems talk to themselves. Ms. Hastings looks at her phone—probably at some friend skydiving or snorkeling in the Bahamas, while she’s trapped in here with us.
The bell rings.
“Time’s up!” calls Ms. Hastings. We hand in our tests. Next class is English.
I don’t chat or dawdle in the corridors; I slip between the crowds, a fish weaving. In fifty-five minutes I’ll have to speak to Grace.Just keep swimming, Biz.
Mr. Birch stands like a flamingo in front of the class, one foot scratching the back of his leg.
“Okay, everyone,” he says, “today we’ll be writing about the ego. That is, your alter ego. Consider your readings over the weekend, and the work of Plath in this context.”
A collective groan from all of us. We’ve done Plath now for three long weeks and no one is a fan. I mean, we all “feel” for her, but at this point we’ve read her and analyzed her and discussed her and it’s like peeling an onion until there’s no onion left.
“I want you to write a description of your alter ego, due at the end of the day,” Mr. Birch says, ignoring our protests. In case we don’t remember what he’s just said, he writes it on the whiteboard, his blue pen squeaking. He then sits at his chipped desk behind his PC, doing paperwork.
We hunker down to do the assignment. That is, some of us do the assignment; some of us daydream. The new boy pulls out a book and reads it behind his laptop screen.
Fans flick-flick above us. A trickle of sweat moves down between my boobs. I stare at my computer.
I don’t much like to write about myself. It’s not my thing, discussing any part of me. Over the years, Mum has suggested we go see people because Dad is dead, but then we put it off. I did sit with a man once, when I was seven and a half, in a room with yellow-painted walls and framed cat pictures. The man had round glasses like Harry Potter. He laid out paper and blunt coloring pencils and said to draw, so I did. Then he hummed and ha-ed and said, “I’ll just speak to your mum now, okay?” and when Mum came back out, her eyes were really red, so I didn’t draw for anyone else after that.
The cursor blinks on, off.
I take a breath, and dive in.
My Alter Ego: A meditation/poem, by Elizabeth Grey
Consider the Ego / The ego is defined as a person’s sense of self / Which includes but is not limited to self-esteem, self-worth, and self-importance / Don’t we all think ourselves important, that we matter? / We are matter, this part is true / But do we? / And / Is it possible to have an alter self / I.e.: an opposite, matterless self?
No / Such a thing cannot exist / The universe is made of matter / And if I am alter or other, then I would be lacking matter or a sense of matter and as such cannot be in the universe / And if I am outside the universe, that makes me a singularity, a concept impossible to imagine / Therefore, my alter ego is beyond my capability for imagining / And thus, cannot be described.
P.S. Some say God is a singularity, but people imagine God all the time / They think he looks like someone’s white grandpa, or Santa Claus / God’s Alter Ego is sometimes called a Dog / (Sorry) / It should be added that Dogs exist and have the potential to exist throughout the known universe / So it is possible that my earlier hypothesis is wrong.
I close my laptop, look up at Mr. Birch, who’ll get to read this masterpiece tonight. What a lucky guy!
The bell rings.
“Please email me your essays by midnight!” calls Mr. Birch over the scrape of chairs, the shoving of laptops into bags, the clatter of our bodies beelining it to the door.
Now it’s break.
At break and lunch, I always sit with Grace—and Evie and Stu and Miff and Rob and Sal. The Posse, they call themselves. I should say: We, as a collective, call ourselves The Posse. I am in The Posse. I am an integral member of The Posse, I think.
Grace and I have sat with The Posse since the first day of Year 9. We were both new. Evie saw us hovering uncertainly in the schoolyard, and decided we belonged to her. She brought us over to the bench under the tree by the fence. There, everyone interviewed us. What bands did we like? Did we prefer a day at the beach or inside? Had we readThe Communist Manifesto? Had we seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Did we like it? Did we have a tattoo? If not, what would we get and where?
The group made the questions sound like conversation. But I could feel everyone marking us invisibly. Tick, tick, cross, tick, tick.
I let Grace answer first and watched everyone’s faces. I crafted my answers the way their smiles went.
In the end it was okay. We could stay. But of course we could stay!The Posse is inclusive! The Posse is Love Incarnate!
We would have more people in The Posse, but most people are stupid, says Miff. We, The Posse, agree.
Before I came to this school, I was never in a group, so being in one—especially one with a name—was quite the novelty. It still is, because, I mean, I belong to six other people and they say they miss me when I’m not there. I’ve sat on the bench under the tree by the fence for just over two years now, laughing and saying things I think I’m supposed to.
And almost every second of every minute I’m with them, I feel like I’m seeing the scene from somewhere else. In front of a screen maybe, watching someone else’s life.
I walk to the lockers. Grace is standing by mine.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she says. She smells like lavender—it’s from the moisturizer she gave me for my birthday, then borrowed two months ago and forgot to give back.
I open my locker. I put in my books.
“Hey,” I say again. My hands are actually shaking, which is stupid, because this is Grace, my best friend, who lives down the street and one left and two rights away from me. Grace Yu-Harrison, who knows all the songs from the Beatles’ White Album (like me), loves The Great Gatsby(like me), and the art of Alexander Calder, especially his mobiles, which move when you blow on them. (We did this, one Sunday in Sydney, when the guard wasn’t looking. The wires trembled at first, then danced.)
Grace lives with her mum and stepdad, who are workaholics. I’m not exaggerating; they literally can’t seem to stop sitting in their offices, going to meetings and conferences and dinners with other workaholics, and coming home late. Grace has a lot of time to herself. Her dad lives in Wagga Wagga, which is so far from the sea it may as well be fictional. She has a pool and a hammock that fits two—we often swing in it after a swim.
Grace is also stunning, the kind of gorgeous most people try their whole lives to be. She has kissed five and a half guys. Half because one guy turned and vomited two seconds after their lips touched.
“It was disgusting,” she said. “He nearly threw up in my mouth!”
I haven’t kissed anyone else but her.
In the four-minute walk from the lockers to our bench by the fence, Grace usually talks. She says we should dye our hair, but not blue because everyone’s doing that, so maybe silver? And she tells me about the drawing she did of her dream last night, and about Suryan in Year 12 sending her a photo of his penis, which she calls a dick, and which I say is unfair to all the people called Richard, and Grace laughs.
At least, that’s what she said on Friday, when I saw her last, before I went over for a swim in her pool and she lay on the grass afterwards—her eyes closed, her hair glassy-smooth—and that’s when something lurched inside me and I leaned over and put my mouth on hers.
“Hey,” says Grace again, and I’m back, by the lockers.
We could do this all day, I think, but then she stands squarely in front of me, so I can’t move. She pins me with her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I begin, which is what I said after I kissed her, and again, when she tried to say how she liked me but notthat way, but I was so mortified I took off. I’m a thousand feet tall and when I run I look like a giraffe, so imagine me, hoofing it down my street in just my swimmers, school bag in one hand, uniform and shoes in the other, the neighbors gawking at me from their front windows. I must have been quite the sight.
“Biz,” says Grace. She puts her hand on my arm. “Seriously, it’s okay. It was nice, you know? I haven’t been kissed in ages and you’re not a bad kisser. I’m just not—” She pauses. And takes a long breath in.
I fix my eyes on the lockers, the floor, anywhere but Grace’s hand on my arm.
She steps closer, so now we are just two pairs of eyes, floating. “So. Here’s the thing, Biz. What I want—ah—what I’m wondering is”—another big breath in—“Biz, areyoubiorallthewaygay?”
I blink. “Sorry?”
“Bi? Or gay?” Grace asks the question like she’s standing with a clipboard in a shopping mall, asking strangers for orphan money.
I gawp at her.
“Because,” she says, “I was thinking over the weekend—whichsucked, by the way—Dad called and I had to fly to Wagga for some great-aunt’s funeral, did you get my text?—and we went to his girlfriend’sfarm for fuckssake—it’s got no Wi-Fi, no signal, how’s that possible?—and we ate lamb, which is seriously disgusting—and he kept saying how I have to get my shit together this year or I won’t get into uni—God, that man’s a nightmare—but anyway—back to you, Biz—I was thinking about who might be good for you instead of me, and whether guys are a no for you or still a possibility, because Evie said Lucas Werry might be keen—but if it’s girls you’re into, we can go in a whole other direction. That’s cool. Like, unless—as long as you’re not hung up on me, in which case”—she pauses—“that could be a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.”
Grace finally stops talking. She smiles, sort of, and waits for me to answer.
I can’t speak. I can feel the pistons of my heart moving, feel my lungs filling, emptying, my pores clogging. I feel the movement of the stars and I can hear the echo of all the black holes consuming everything—
and then, just like that, my head clears.
It’s Grace. Just Grace. (Look, Biz.)
Here she is, her hand still on my arm. My best friend.
(Come down to earth, Biz. Everything is going to be okay.)
I blink slowly, and feel myself waking.
“No,” I say. “I don’t think I’m hung up on you. As mesmerizingly beautiful as you are, Grace, I actually don’t think you’re my type.” And as I say it, something untangles in my chest. Oh my God. It’strue. I think?
I’m not. She isn’t.
Grace looks hugely relieved. Which makes me laugh. And I keep laughing, and suddenly everything is fine.
“I don’t actually know what I am,” I say, and I think that’s true. Am I bi? Am I gay? Am I something else? It makes my head fog to think about it.
“I mean, I wasn’t planning to kiss you,” I say.
She smiles. “I am pretty irresistible.”
“You’re the only person I’ve ever kissed, Grace. I’m seriously inexperienced. Maybe I should kiss more people to figure it out? Maybe we can line them up. Or lay them out on a tray like a taste test.”
“So we can see if you’re into pepperoni or anchovies,” says Grace.
“Both are animal products, so therefore—” I begin, and then see Grace smirk. “Ah,gross, Grace!”
Grace laughs. She starts walking outside. I walk beside her. We head for the tree, the bench under the tree, The Posse sitting beside the fence. And Grace is already pulling her phone out, already texting Lucas-Werry-who-might-be-keen, and asking him over to her house for a swim.
Which will be good.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In my opinion, How It Feels to Float is probably one of the most underrated novels released this past spring. I haven’t read such a universal novel in a very long time. It’s potent, touching and had me glued to it page after page. Biz Martin Grey knows how to float through life. Survive, despite her dark thoughts and inescapable sadness. Biz lost her father when she was 7 years old. She is now a teenager and still sees her father every day even though she lost him all those years ago. Then after one night on a beach, her dad disappears and she can no longer see him no matter what she does. What follows is Biz’s journey as she tries to find her dad and come to terms with his death as well as her own depression and mental illness. Biz is such a touching character—everyone who has suffered through any type of difficult time in their life will be able to see some semblance of themselves in her. If you’re in the mood for a hopeful, touching novel, this one is for you.
I don’t know how I feel about this. I devoured it quickly initially. I love parts of it and I can personally vouch for how well it depicts somethings. But then it became harder to read the deeper it delved because of how well it depicts the struggle. I was broken between Biz and her mother, the inverted version of me & mine and maybe the future with my daughter. I did google the movie Biz talked about, and that helped quite a bit with her parents and their relationships. How It Feels To Float feels so right, terrifying and hopeful. I’m glad it didn’t go down The Beautiful Mind route. I mean, I loved that movie at the time, but we so need to move on from it. I’m glad I read it. I hope others read it too. I hope they learn and research and become better. But enjoy it? Eh....perhaps it’s a defense mechanism or just plain anxiety, where as much as I want representation I worry about what the neurotypicals will do armed with it. But it is great. Run Down: >Exploring sexuality >Accidental ableism >Dead father >Terrible mysterious past >Slow reveal suicide >Single mother >Younger twin siblings >Breakdown, detachment, hallucinations, edited memory, >Motorcycle rides >Almost drowning >Running away on a modern coming of age quest >Cute, friendly, verge of something couple >Dropping out of school >Sweet understanding grandma friend >Photography classes
I thoroughly enjoyed the synopsis of this story and so had every intention to give it my full attention. I think mental illness is finally being talked about in literature and people can't ignore it any longer. However the story fell kind of flat for me. I made it through about a quarter of the book before I lost interest. I lost more and more interest. I don't mind a bit of cursing in my YA novels, but I felt the author was really angry at times while writing and so blurted out profanity as often as she could, in some cases one character was calling another character three derogatory names all at once, multiple times! That's just a bit too much for me. I did however, enjoy the aspect of Biz's father being involved while Biz sorted through her grief and wanted to see how that would play out but wasn't sure how much more of the over the top drama and profanity I was going to read. Unfortunately I didn't care much for this read and wasn't able to finish it but I would recommend it to others who profanity may not offend as much and to those who drama excites.
Our book club had a fantastic discussion around this book. As a reader who is a bit older than the protagonist, I found myself swept up in some feelings of nostalgia as she attempted to navigate her way through her every day. And after discussing with the group, we realized how much of what was on the surface of what we were reading was probably not what it seemed. We realized she was a fairly unreliable narrator, but not by choice. In her author’s note at the end, Fox shared some of her own struggles with mental health issues, and explained how she infused her knowledge into Biz’s experience. As a reader who is unfamiliar with the situation, I found it to be incredibly insightful and eye-opening. And our discussion about how characters we’re offering conflicting descriptions of the same situations were Biz’s reality vs others’ realities blew it wide open for me. I think this is a book that’s important for readers of any age group to read.
Great Debut Novel about Mental Illness, Family, Young Love and Friendship How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox was written in quite a unique style. Its flowing prose captured my attention from the beginning and drew me in in a subtle way at first and then became more addictive as I got deeper into the story. The author, Helena Fox, drew from her own experiences of mental illness, to make How It Feels to Float believable and yet unpredictable. It was hard to put down once I started reading it. My emotions were all over the place as the story progressed. The story took place in Australia, where Biz (a nickname for Elizabeth) was a young, adolescent girl attending high school. She lived with her mom and her twin siblings. Biz's father had passed away when she was only seven years old. One of Biz's problems was that her dad continued to show himself to her in unexpected and unpredictable ways as he floated in and out of her consciousness. This was something that Biz kept to herself and did not share with her family or friends. Biz had one true, best friend. Her name was Grace. They shared all their in-most feelings, discoveries and curiosities with each other. Biz and Grace went through the typical high school drama and exploration that normal eleventh grade girls go through. Biz began to question her sexual preferences and struggled with her identify of what she wanted and who she was. Her father's death impacted her far more than anyone realized including herself. Biz also forged friendships with Jasper, the new boy at school and with Silvia, a sweet, understanding, older woman whom she met in a photography class. Both became so important in Biz's recovery. How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox was inspiring yet a hard book to read at times. It closely explored inter-generational mental illness and how the signs are so often missed. It was so hard for me to stop reading once I began. Biz's thoughts were intimate and troubled. Her mom's struggles to help Biz were genuine and heart-wrenching. How It Feels to Float was a young girl's efforts to accept her father's death, move past grief and begin to heal and get better. This was categorized as a YA book, but I think anyone would benefit from reading it and enjoy it. It is very thought provoking. I recommend How It Feels to Float very highly and will look for more books by Helena Fox in the future. It was hard to accept that this was Helena Fox's first novel that she had ever written. Thank you Bookish First for providing me with this ARC of How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox in exchange for an honest review. 12 likes
This was a very thought-provoking and intense book to read. It’s raw and honest and an important read, and it provides readers an inside look into what the experience of a person with a mental illness could look like. Parts of Biz’s story were a bit difficult for me to fully comprehend, because I wasn’t sure if she was describing real experiences, as best she knew how, or if she was speaking in metaphors. The author’s writing style for this book made it seem a little like a long ramble of thoughts, which was most likely done on purpose, but personally, it made the book a little bit more difficult to read. It was definitely hard to read about Biz’s struggles throughout the book, because I just kept wishing someone would notice her struggling and help her find her way back to herself. Overall, I’m happy I was able to read about this real experience, but I didn’t really connect with the writing style of the book.
Original, thought-provoking story! Thanks to Bookish First for the ARC of How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox and Dial Books. I received the book as a Bookish First winner! Elizabeth, Biz, sees and hears her dad even though he’s been dead for many years. Biz lives in Australia with her single mother and younger twin siblings. She has a best friend named Grace that’s loyal to the point of vandalizing, on Biz’s behalf. They both receive warnings from the police even though Grace keeps saying that Biz was innocent. Grace’s family sends her away and Biz becomes more withdrawn. So, Biz starts therapy and a photography class. Her therapist advises Biz to stay in the moment and acknowledge her feelings and live. She meets new people and makes new friends as she spreads her wings. She also acknowledges the problems that have been buried deep inside. How It Feels to Float was a therapeutic read for me and I relished the professional advice given to Biz. I can see how this book might be triggering, especially if the reader is dealing with similar struggles. I really cannot sum this book’s effect in one word because it’s somewhat enigmatic.,thought-provoking, eye-opening and uniquely unusual! The revealing of the cause of Biz’s struggles was jittery and not explained as well as I expected it to be. I would have appreciated more explanation and feel that this would be more healing and helpful to those that have experienced the same traumas and for this reason, I rate this book 4 stars!
Helena Fox's novel How It Feels To Float isn't one you'll read lightly, and much of the content you'll read more than once to make sure you've read correctly. It's quite a difficult read as a matter of fact, and there were many times when I was uncertain if the novel was worth plodding through the sadness, awkwardness, and otherness clinging to the main character. Thank goodness for the short chapters, which do tend to help ease the pace of the strangeness you constantly feel coming from Biz and the repetitive negative thoughts whirling through her about herself, her family, her friendships, and her life. And always present, the memory of her dead father and the memories he shares with her of their life together and how things were then. After Biz loses her best friend Grace, there's a short chapter on grief and what Biz thinks it feels like. This page and a half is totally exquisite. Biz doesn't return to school and gets to the point that she rarely leaves her home. She finally starts seeing a therapist and enrolls in a photography class where she meets Sylvia, an 83-three year old, who is filled with spunk, kindness, patience, and a knack for trying new things. They immediately bond, as far as Biz can bond with anyone, and the book improves substantially after this point, if only for the glint of hope Sylvia brings to the table. Overall, I'm glad I read the book and know that certain types of mental illness can cause numerous problems in relationships and our perceptions of those relationships, even between what is true and what is not or what is imagined. This book defined many of those aspects and is an eye-opener for those who have never closely struggled with mental illness in the family.
Such an emotional book! I wanted to hug Biz so many times. She seemed so broken from the death of her father. When Biz continues to see him after his death it's so sad. He tells stories about her as a baby and she can see some of his own sadness at times. Her best friend has started excluding her in some things and a new boy, Jasper, comes to town. Jasper unknowingly aids Biz in her search for more glimpses of her father and his life. This book is full of grief during a vulnerable time in ones life. Although the stories are different I highly recommend this for fans of The Astonishing Color of After. I've seen the book trailer that goes along with this cover and I think they did an amazing job.
I really enjoyed reading How it Feels to Float by Helena Fox, this novel offers a stunning and heart breaking look into living with mental illness and dealing with loss and grief. This was an exceptional debut novel and I cant wait to read more from this author in the future. This impossible to put down novel follows a teenage main character named Biz, as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father while also dealing with mental illness and questioning her sexuality. There is so amazing representation in this novel and the subject of mental health was handled beautifully. The writing style was very unique being both flowery and poetic while also feeling so incredibly raw and real.
I have a lot of respect for this book. It is an honest exploration of mental health, dealing with death and loss in more ways than one and, most importantly it is done in a way that is warm and funny while not shying away from the story she wants to tell. Listen all the way to the author’s note in which she shares her own battles, making the story even better and more real. 4.5 stars
“I don’t mind not knowing the universe is filled with incomprehensible things. We exist inside a multitude of singularities. I accepted this a long time ago.” I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that How It Feels to Float is one of the most stunning debuts I’ve read recently. There’s such a calming rhythm to the writing that pulls you into Biz’s chaotic thoughts. It’s quite the perfect pairing. The writing is lyrical, poetic, and about as close as you can get to a novel told in verse, without being told in verse. There’s a stream of consciousness quality to Biz’s thought that comes across as completely organic and let’s you get to know her in an intimate way. But it can also be incredibly tough to read, because Biz is going through a lot and definitely has dark thoughts that encroach. But I loved her friendship with Grace, Jasper, and Silvia. So even thought this is a tough read, I think it is definitely worth it. How It Feels to Float is an exploration of grief and acceptance and the ghosts that chase you on your journey to healing. I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Different, but Good I won a copy of this book from BookishFirst. I do not read a lot of books with Australia as the setting, so it took a while to get used to some of the lingo and language used. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It went at a fairly good pace with significant events happening regularly. The characters were interesting and diverse. It turns out high school and teenage relationships in Australia are fairly similar to high school in America. Poor Biz. Her journey was interesting. If you did not know that she was seeing her dead father, you would never know that she was a person with a mental illness. The three things she remembered near the end were very telling. The ending was good with events turning out well for all.
Wow! What a book! I feel like I've been from the moon and back after reading this. So powerful. So emotionally intense. I need a nap. lol Big thanks to the publisher and Bookish First for providing me with an advanced review copy. TW: depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts and disassociation. However, this book dealt with the mental health aspect so beautifully and with such grace, I do think it was dealt with with the utmost care and grace. The author explored these mental health issues in such a moving and creative way. I think this book could really help people who may be going through similar problems in their own life. To start with, the book is written in a wonderfully unique style. I can see that this wouldn't exactly be everyone's cup of tea, but it is definitely my jam. I love flowery, poetic writing. However, this book wasn't just any one way. It was at times raw and real and down-to-earth, but always there was a current of lusciousness running through it at all times. The writing is rich and it makes you want to chew on the author's words, savor them on your tongue for a bit. The first few chapters started out in a kind of strange tone, this may put some readers off before they even begin, so I urge you to push past that. The chapters are very short and addictive and the story picks up after only a few semi-weird pages. I promise, it gets real good. Keep going. I found this book to be addictive and hard to put down. I had to physically tear myself away from the book at one point, because I needed to stop but didn't want to. I think that has a little to do with the tiny chapters encouraging you to read just one more over and over and over again. lol I would not start this book late at night if I were you, because you'll probably want to finish it all in one sitting and then goodbye sleep. I felt that the story derailed just a bit towards the end as the main character's mental health was spiraling out of control, hence the 4 star rating, and not the 5 that I was anticipating. But I can definitely see and respect why the author chose to write it that way. It really gave you a sense of how the main character felt at that time. It just kind of stressed me out, personally, which, again, was probably the intended purpose anyway. A FANTASTIC DEBUT! I do recommend.
How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox is a beautifully written, haunting and powerful debut novel. Fox delves deep into the subjects of multigenerational mental illness, sexual identity and the coming of age process by executing a uniquely written narrative with amazing character development. Elizabeth “Biz” Grey, the main character of the story, has been developed in a way that the reader is really able to get into Biz’s head and experience her feelings and emotions right along with her. The writing is so unique, especially when Biz experiences her “break,” that the reader is able to understand and relate to her very unique thoughts, actions and reactions. Upon finishing this book, it would be very surprising if there wasn’t one reader that didn’t come away from the experience with a bit more compassion and empathy.
This book, written in first person point of view (my personal favorite), is a powerful and authentic-feeling debut with so much I loved about it: 1) The writing is poetic, lyrical, concrete, and raw. It grabbed me and from the start and never let go; 2) The friendships and family; 3) The beautiful setting of Australia (someday I want to visit this amazing place); 4) The exploration of sexuality; and, 5) The graceful way the author explored mental illness felt authentic and the best I've ever encountered in young adult literature. I looked forward to my reading time with this novel and the short chapters made it easy to squeeze in just a little bit more time with Biz and her world. This is one of my favorite books this year. This book, written in first person point of view (my personal favorite), is a powerful and authentic-feeling debut with so much I loved about it: 1) The writing is poetic, lyrical, concrete, and raw. It grabbed me and from the start and never let go; 2) The friendships and family; 3) The beautiful setting of Australia (someday I want to visit this amazing place); 4) The exploration of sexuality; and, 5) The graceful way the author explored mental illness felt authentic and the best I've ever encountered in young adult literature. I looked forward to my reading time with this novel and the short chapters made it easy to squeeze in just a little bit more time with Biz and her world. This is one of my favorite books this year.
This novel was extremely powerful! Biz is a likeable character. She is a teenager living in Australia. Her father has passed and she lives with her mom and younger twin siblings. Biz is a vegan and is inseparable from her friend Grace. Biz is going through some typical teenage angst trying to figure things out when one night something happens which causes her to lose it. Biz spirals and tries to put herself back together to stop herself from floating out of her body. I cried several times at this novel as I just felt so bad for Biz. The characters in this novel really made the book. I also loved the setting. The most important part of this novel for me though was how I could really see the impact of mental illness. I understand mental illness but to see it through a character's eyes like this was really an ah ha moment. I really began to understand just how hard it is. How helpless you feel. Just an extremely powerful, emotional ride. I highly recommend this book.
In "How It Feels to Float" debut author Helena Fox takes readers on the powerful coming-of-age journey of Elizabeth, known as Biz. On the surface, Biz appears to be a typical teen who does well in school and enjoys time with her friends and family. However, readers quickly learn that Biz is deeply grieving her father's death, has confusing feelings for her best friend, and her school chums aren't true friends. Circumstances escalate seriously and quickly, and Biz's world falls apart. In the middle section of the book, readers learn much more about Biz's early childhood and the mental health challenges she faces. The author is skilled in placing the reader into Biz's mind and the reality she lives on a daily basis. When Biz finally trusts a counselor and creates true friendships with two unlikely characters, it's good to see Biz gain understanding of her past and her present situation. I especially enjoyed her discovery of a hobby that proves to be therapeutic. However, when a trip/adventure to visit her father's birthplace reveals unexpected information, Biz isn't prepared to deal with it and encounters new struggles with her mental health. Although this novel is often raw and intense, it is also hopeful. At the end, I was grateful Biz was able to look forward to her future. I haven't experienced mental health challenges, but this reading experience gave me great empathy toward people who live with such challenges every day. This is an "own voices" novel as the author's note states Fox's experiences with mental health challenges.
This story follows the life of Biz, a teenaged girl. Biz lives with her family, goes to school, explores her sexuality and navigates the rough waters of growing up, as well as often talking with her father—her dead father. There is so much to love about this book. The writing. The writing is gorgeous. This is not a book you want to rush through. It should be savored. Biz is a fantastic character. She struggles with mental illness which is handled in a very realistic way. She also struggles to label her sexuality. Does she like girls? Boys? Both? I really was able to identify with Biz, and was able to really get inside her head. The other characters were also amazing. I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’m just going to say that the plot was great, the pacing was great, plus the cover is beautiful. What are you waiting for? Go read it!!!
Mental illness, grief, bullying, LGBTQ, teenage angst, and a journey to find herself and her deceased father via photography round out this novel about Biz, a young girl who has an ultimately unidentified mental health diagnosis by the end of the novel. The writing is pure poetry, sometimes straightforward prose, just delivered as a normal novel, other times dancing across the page, like clouds of thoughts, with just a word or two per line. The trauma of losing her father causes her mental illness issues, which we never get a true diagnosis for (although I'd hazard a guess that with the photographs speaking to her, and her seeing her father that she either has schizophrenia or Bipolar I with psychotic features) to progressively get worse and she ultimately ends up in a psychiatric ward. It's a powerful read, and the only critique I have is that I wish the illness had been identified. I think that the stigma would be lessened if we talked about these things more openly and specifically. There's a lot of misinformation out there and I think getting more precise would do a world of good when it comes to mental illness issues. I have bipolar II and it's refreshing to have representation in novels, to talk more freely about these things instead of pretending like they don't happen. Either way, the book was really well written and definitely hit some emotional high notes.
Trigger Warning - depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts etc. How Biz is handling her father's death reminded me of how I dealt with mine. I may not have been as young as Biz, but the pain was still real. Besides handling those emotions, she also is trying to come to terms with her feelings for her best friend Grace amoungst other teen age stuff. There is so much going on in this book and I have to say its a beautiful written book but it deals with mental illness is such a raw way, it almost brought me to tears. Biz's pain jumps out to you and you really truly feel it. Biz deals with her anxiety by speaking to her father (who it turns out had his own demons). Everyone who has ever suffered from mental illness and is also dealing with angst from those difficult teenage years. I cant thank Bookish First enough for the ARC. This is a book that will stay with me for a while.