In recent times I have been mostly writing quick reviews for the kids books I read on Goodreads, but every now and again I read one that I feel is worthy of a bigger post here. A book that I want to spend more time with, thinking about it – it’s impact on me, the writing, the story, the characters.
This is one of those books.
How It Feels to Float came to me highly recommended – not only by my rep, but also by the mother of the author, Helena Fox.
The Pan Macmillan blurb says,
Biz knows how to float. She has her people, posse, her mum 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 surface – normal okay regular fine.
Dark, runaway thoughts and floating are all clues that this seemingly regular teen story about not fitting in, feeling awkward about one’s body, one’s sexuality, social gaffs, drinking, kissing the wrong people and kissing the right people at the wrong time is going to move into heavier territory at some point.
Fairly soon we realise that Biz, our extraordinary protagonist, is clearly experiencing life a little differently to everyone around her. She floats, or dissociates out of her body when things get too stressful, too awkward or too weird to cope with. She has visits from her dead dad, a man who was obviously struggling with his own major mental health issues in the lead up to his death.
Mental health, illness, sexual confusion, grief and loss are all big topics in young people’s fiction right now, and a part of me nearly groaned out loud when I realised where this book was heading. But within a few chapters, I was hooked by Fox’s poetic language and Biz’s moving, authentic story.
I also loved the locations – all around the Illawarra region plus the train trip out west to Cootamundra, Temora and Wagga that were woven naturally into the story. I feel it is so important for us to have stories that reflect our own lives, in places we know intimately, so that we can own the messages they have to tell us and not just push them away as things that happen to other people, over there somewhere far away from us.
Without reading the author’s acknowledgements at the end, you could still fairly safely assume that the author has had first hand experience with mental health issues. Her descriptions of Biz’s thinking and reactions are so heartfelt, instinctive and genuine that they can only come from personal knowledge.
Biz’s descent and torment are sympathetically drawn as is her search for a safe emotional harbour. Eventually this becomes a story about how to be anchored, or grounded and how be present, instead of floating away, perhaps permanently.
How it Feels to Float was an intense read, that drew me in, gradually, compulsively, urgently until I was left feeling like I had just read one of the best YA’s I’ve read in a very long time.