Monday 5 August 2019

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Review: How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

Published: 7th May 2019 | Publisher: Dial Books | Cover Designer: Kristie Radwilowicz | Cover Illustrator: Karolis Strautiekas | Source: Bought
Helena Fox's Website

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 seven. 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.
From Goodreads.

Trigger/Content Warnings: This book features sex shaming, hallucinations, disassociation, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, suicide ideation, and discussion of suicide.

Back in April, Cait of Paper Fury posted an interview with Helena Fox about her debut novel, How It Feels to Float, and I was completely sold and ordered myself a copy. One of the best decisions I ever made, because this book is absolutely beautiful. It's an incredible story of grief, of friendship, of love, and of mental illness.

Biz's father died nine years ago, and she's never really got over it. But he visits her, and tells her stories about when she was young. But after she almost drowns and is rescued by new boy Jasper, and things fall apart with her friend Grace, she loses her dad all over again, and finds herself in the grip of overwhelming sadness. So she escapes the only way she knows how, and floats above it all, wondering if things would be better if she just floats away completely. Despite the friends she makes in grandmotherly Sylvia she meets in a photography course, and then her grandson, who coincidentally happens to be Jasper, Biz's mental health continues to deteriorate when the photos she takes start to talk to her. And she discovers there might just be a way to get her dad back.

How It Feels to Float is a difficult book to talk about, because while a lot happens, it's a lot in regards to Biz's mental health and how it deteriorates. She's confused a lot of the time; is she ok, is she better? She's not sure, even though to us, the readers, she clearly isn't. Not when she wonders if she's even real, if she actually exists, and starts to think of herself as a cloud, and various other things as her thoughts run away from her as she floats. She is so vulnerable, so on the edge, with the idea of real escape hovering at the edges of her mind. But other people think she is getting better, because she's up and out and doing things, rather than just in bed like she was. Biz doesn't talk about most of what is happening to her and what she experiences, so most of Biz's deterioration isn't seen - which just allows her to get worse.

But that's more to do with Biz not talking rather than people not actually seeing. People are there; her mum, Sylvia, Jasper. She doesn't necessarily behave erratically, it's her thoughts, those that run away with her, those that go on a loop and make no sense, but also do, because we get to see her thoughts and how she thinks, and of course she would think like this. It's absolutely the strangest thing, because it's like with every thought, we're seeing her disintegrate, more and more, and I was just so worried she might just disappear. Which sounds ridiculous, I know, but the more her mental health deteriorates, the less it feels like is keeping her grounded. With my anxiety, I have had a little experience with disassociation, but what Biz experiences is just terrifying. While she experiences suicide ideation, it also feels like she might just check out completely mentally. The more she "floats," the more likely it seems that she might just not come back. And god knows what that looks like to the people around her when it happens, as it does occasionally in the presence of others.

How It Feels to float is genuinely such a excruciating and heartbreaking story, because there is absolutely nothing you can do but watch it happen. But at the same time, it's written so, so beautifully, it's just gorgeous, and the combination of beautiful, lyrical writing alongside the deterioration of a character's mental health is just brilliant. Because it's so jarring to have something so terrifying sound so beautiful - not just in the language, how things are worded, but in articulating those thoughts and those experiences... I don't know if I'm making much sense. As someone with anxiety, it can be really difficult to explain what it feels like, the thoughts I have, and what I think about those thoughts and how it feels. To have someone put all those things into words articulately, but also doing so in such a beautiful way... it's incredible, but it's also very jarring. It's rose petals around shards of glass. It just makes it all the more terrifying for me, seeing where Biz's thoughts go.

I really, really need to talk about Biz's friendships with Sylvia and Jasper. They're both different, but they're both so pure, and so important, and full of such genuine care. It doesn't matter that Sylvia is 80-odd and Biz is 16, their friendship just works, and it's so, so beautiful. Sylvia sees that Biz needs some help in the photography class, takes her under her wing, and sees without being told that Biz is going through some things. And so she is just there for her. She knows when to just be quiet, she knows when to talk about something else, she knows when to just show that she cares, and just be there with her. She doesn't push her, she doesn't ask questions. It's like she just knows, and she just loves her. Their friendship is just magical and so gorgeous. And Jasper, he and Biz don't get off to the best start, but once they get over that, they're friendship is so important. It's almost like Jasper's friendship brings Biz back to life, even while she's deteriorating. And yeah, he makes some mistakes because he's only young himself, and doesn't know exactly what's going on, but not only do they really get on, but again, he genuinely cares about her, and it's so beautiful to see.

No labels or diagnoses are used in this book, so we don't know exactly what Biz is dealing with, but from my reading, I think she has depression and anxiety. I have thoughts about other possible mental illnesses she may have, but I don't know enough about them to feel confident enough saying so. However, in her acknowledgements, Fox mentions that she has complex PTSD, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, and clinical depression, so Biz may have all or a variety of these. But I do feel secure in saying that this is an #OwnVoices novel. You can just feel that How It Feels to Float has been written by someone who gets it.

How It Feels to Float is beautiful and heartbreaking. It's painful and raw, but it's also so full of love and hope. It's such a gorgeous, gorgeous read, and I implore you to read it. It's such an important, powerful novel. And I am so excited for what Fox writes next.

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Over to you graphic
Have you read any novels about mental illness that feel just so unbelievable raw and vulnerable and honest? What are your favourite books that are just so beautifully written? Will you be picking up How It Feels to Float? Let me know in the comments!

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