Book Review – ‘How It Feels To Float’ by Helena Fox

Title: How It Feels To Float
Authors: Helena Fox
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 384 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Pan Macmillan Australia on April 23rd, 2019
RRP: $9.99 AUD (ebook)$17.99 AUD (paperback)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

This is a debut by an Australian author featuring an Australian teen in Wollongong – I don’t read as much #loveozya as I should, so I’m glad I was given a chance to read this. The book takes you on a journey through the fractured mindscape of our protagonist, Biz, as she teeters on the verge of a breakdown.

As someone who has lived with depression for over a decade, I’m drawn to books that deal with mental health issues. What I really appreciate is that this is an #ownvoices book so the themes of mental illness are handled sensitively and with a more realistic portrayal than I sometimes encounter. Biz is so believably portrayed and fleshed out that I choked up with tears on several occasions because her pain is so tangible, it leaps off the page and practically smothers you. I finished the book in a puddle of tears, but it was a cathartic reading experience that caused the good healing kind of crying jag.

The beautiful lyrical writing is unpredictable and follows no rules, dipping into free verse to better express Biz’s state of mind. It may take some readers a bit to get used to, but it helps immerse you in Biz’s world more effectively and pull you along with her as she unravels.

Grief feels like this
an okay day and a good day and an okay day
then a bad.
Bad that follows and empties you
Bad like a sinkhole.

It feels like
an unrelenting urge to lay your head down on the table
wherever you are, whomever you are with

It feels like
a night of vivid dreams and when you wake,
all day you hold one dream close
because in it
everything was back to how it once was.

The way that Biz spirals down is deadly serious and puts her health in jeopardy as she engages in negative self-talk and suicidal ideation and a general lack of concern about living. But the events that trigger this aren’t overly dramatized – she’s never properly dealt with the death of her father, and then she has to face her best friend and tether to reality being banished to another town. These are normal life-events that a lot of people will have dealt with and it helps to drive home the message that mental illness can affect anyone.

Do you feel alone in spite of being surrounded by almost eight billion people including twins who come into your room and kiss your face and a mum who brings you warm soy milk when you can’t sleep and a house with walls and a roof? Why are you so sad and empty when you have a house with walls and a roof and people who love you?


Why are you so ungrateful?


Why is it so hard for you to be happy?

Biz has a loving mother and adorable twin siblings, a good home and support system, but that means nothing in the face of faulty brain chemistry and the other genetic, social and psychological factors that cause mental illness. I’ve written practically the exact same as the quoted passage above in my own journal and it feels so rewarding to see this character go through the same thing, experience the same lows and build herself back up.

I love that Biz begins therapy sessions and that it’s depicted in such a realistic manner. Hollywood’s take on counselling makes it all about the psychologist who dispenses snappy advice and takes on an active role in chiding the patient and telling them what to do with their life. It always frustrates me how untrue and irresponsible those fictional therapists are because it’s not about them, it’s about the patient. Because we’re in Biz’s head, while she may not actively respond to the psychologist, we still see her internal responses and slow meandering steps on the path to recovery. There are a lot of setbacks, and that’s just how real life works, so her story doesn’t come with the pat formula of overcoming one obstacle and suddenly everything’s fine. Biz is a work-in-progress, and that’s okay.

Moving away from Biz for a moment, I’m happy to see her mother portrayed as caring and compassionate while also struggling to understand her daughter’s condition and how best to care for her. There’s no injection of contrived drama by having her mother ice her out or disown her, in fact, as much as I’ve talked about how emotionally overwhelming this book can be when it draws you into Biz’s depressive state, it’s also a great comfort read because of her mother being so present and desperately trying to help her recover. And while Biz loses touch with her best friend, she manages to form another friendship with a delightful old lady named Sylvia as well as Jasper, who she knew from school. In the middle of her ongoing crisis, there are moments of hope and positivity to provide us with a bit of relief.

There isn’t a lot of action in this book as the main focus is on Biz’s state of mind and how she relates to the people around her. Readers who prefer stories with fast-paced plots and tons of action may be a little lost, but Biz is such a relatable protagonist that I would recommend everyone try it out anyway because I honestly think this will help anyone who’s been in her shoes as well as help the people who know someone who’s been in her shoes.

Pros: relatable protagonist, positive family relationships, wonderful development of platonic friendships, sensitive discussion of mental health

Cons: ambiguous ending, lack of closure

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.


Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

7 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘How It Feels To Float’ by Helena Fox

  1. I’ve been avidly eyeing this one because of the depression rep (and the mountain starred reviews and blurbs from other authors), so I’m happy to see that it lives up to the praise! And the whole “feeling sad and ungrateful even while being showered with love” is something I’ve also struggled with, so that passage really hits home. And the writing in general–especially the verse stuff–looks gorgeous!! Thank you for the review, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a feeling you’re going to love this! I mean, be prepared with tissues on hand, but the depression rep is fantastic and even though it hurts, it’s such a ‘cozy read’ in that things do get better and you have the sense that even though life doesn’t work out perfectly, there’s still hope. it’s just so beautiful!

      I could’ve quoted whole PAGES because so much was relevant and struck a chord with me, but I’ll leave it for you to discover ❤ thanks for commenting and I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

    • thank you so much! ❤

      I love books like this which shine a light on important issues, but manage to do that in the process of telling a compelling story instead of preaching. this was such a unique read aside from the subject matter, but it definitely made more of an impact because of how much I saw myself in the main character. (self-absorbed, much? lol 😉 )


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