Book Review: How it Feels To Float

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Author: Helena Fox
ISBN: 978 1 76078 330 3
RRP: $17.99
Publication Date: 23 April 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

“How it Feels to Float” is a young adult novel with a surprisingly tough depiction of serious mental illness. It’s accurate, but rarely do young adult novels have a central character with such serious mental illness and so little sugar coating. It’s an excellent novel; readers will care deeply about Biz, and likely be both shocked and moved by her problems.

Biz is seventeen and happy enough. She has her best friend Grace, and a wider circle of slightly more distant friends. Things are okay at home with her Mum and younger brother and sister. She’s doing pretty well in school, although she’s not sure where she wants to go from here.

There’s just one cloud on her horizon. Her dad. She talks to him almost every day, and he answers her. And that’s a bit of a problem, because he died ten years ago. Biz knows there’s something wrong with having your dead dad pop in so often, but she misses him desperately, so chooses not to tell anyone.

One day Biz has an upsetting but pretty normal teenage experience. Suddenly she finds she can’t float along on the surface anymore. Once she’s slightly off balance, she doesn’t seem able to regain it, and the slow slide from normal and average gathers pace until it’s a landslide.

Biz is the narrator of the novel, and she’s a really strong voice. Fox captures the inner life of a teenage girl vividly, and makes her attractive and understandable. She is so believable that I winced several times; I really wouldn’t want to be a teenager again. Because we are so caught up in Biz’s voice and view of the world, it’s some time before we realise just how off kilter things are becoming. Like her, we think she’s coping.

The novel doesn’t go in for hysterics or dramatics; it’s almost a novel length character study, the plot is so understated. It’s compelling though – most readers will find it hard to put down. The sense of place is particularly strong, with the Australian landscape a vividly depicted part of the story.

We are in Biz’s head, so we see all the other characters through her eyes. Fox nevertheless gives us insights into each that Biz herself hasn’t necessarily understood, and makes each as individual and real as Biz. I found the mixture of maturity and immaturity in the teenage characters particularly well handled.

“How it Feels to Float” is ultimately a pretty positive novel, and one that will stay with the reader for some time. The head on depiction of serious mental illness may be confronting for some, but it’s also supportive and understanding. This is an extraordinarily well written novel, a pleasure to read and with much food for thought.

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.

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