How it feels to float: grief, mental illness and figuring it all out

How it feels to float book review

What is this book about?: This book is about Biz, about the face she presents to the world that says all the right things to make everyone happy. It’s about how she tries very hard not to sink — into the thoughts she doesn’t share with anyone.

What else is this about?: It’s about figuring out how to survive grief and live with mental illness. It’s about Biz understanding herself.


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, who loves her so hard, 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 six. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface–normal okay regular fine.

But after what happens on the beach–first in the ocean, and then in the sand–the 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 maybe–maybe maybe maybe–there’s a third way Biz just can’t see yet.

How It Feels To Float is about Biz, a young girl who is figuring out who she is. She kisses her best friend Grace, and finds herself attracted to Jasper. She talks to the ghost of her father, and tries very hard to float — to present the picture of someone who is normal.

But normal goes out the window when something happens to her, and from there, the book becomes something lyrical, but sad too. Helena Fox’s writing is mesmerising and she captures Biz so well that you can’t help but fall into Biz’s world — her fears and her grief.

The story also delves into her relationship with her mother, and her siblings to an extent. Things are typical in the beginning, but as Biz’s PTSD comes to the fore, their relationship begins to fracture. The book wants to explore how the different parts of Biz’s life are affected by her mental illness, and having finished the book, I think I would have liked more of her mother and her relationship with Biz, but her father — ghost that he is — looms large in the story for good reason.

Fox’s writing is is stark, and as How It Feels to Float is entirely from Biz’s POV, it’s a testament to the author’s skill how well she drew readers (me) in, experiencing how Biz sinks when she can’t stay afloat any longer.


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