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How It Feels To Float Book Summary, Review, Notes


“How It Feels to Float” by Helena Fox presents the story of Elizabeth Martin Grey, known as Biz, a 16-year-old grappling with grief, mental illness, and her identity. Biz often converses with her deceased father, an experience that escalates into a profound struggle with depression after his apparition vanishes, leaving her to navigate the turbulent waters of adolescence and mental health recovery alone​​.


Book Title: How It Feels to Float
Author: Helena Fox
Date of Reading: July 2023
Rating: 8/10


Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:


The book has four parts that have 104 chapters in total. I’ll go over each part without doing a chapter by chapter summary, but summarizing the parts as a whole. 


Part 1:


Part I of “How It Feels to Float” introduces us to Biz, a teenage girl grappling with the loss of her father, who passed away when she was seven. The narrative is set against the backdrop of her coastal town in Australia, where Biz lives with her mother and younger siblings. The story is a deep exploration of Biz’s inner world, marked by her struggles with mental health and her sense of disconnection from the world around her.


Biz is intensely attached to the memories of her father, often feeling his presence and conversing with him in her mind. These interactions reflect her inability to fully accept his death and move on. Her father’s absence has left a void in her life, influencing her relationships with her family and friends.


Photography, a passion she shared with her father, is a significant part of Biz’s life. Through her camera lens, she tries to make sense of the world and maintain a connection with her father. Her photography also becomes a means of expression, capturing moments of beauty and pain in her life.


At school, Biz navigates typical teenage experiences, including friendships and a budding romantic interest in Jasper, a new student. However, her complex emotions and mental health issues often make these experiences challenging. She has a close bond with her friend Grace, who provides support and understanding.


Family dynamics play a crucial role in this part of the book. Biz’s mother struggles to keep the family together and deal with her own grief, often leaving Biz feeling isolated and responsible for her younger siblings. This dynamic adds to Biz’s sense of being overwhelmed and her struggle to find her place in the world.


Throughout Part I, there are vivid descriptions of Biz’s experiences of dissociation and her battles with depression and anxiety. These episodes are interspersed with moments of clarity and connection, painting a nuanced picture of her mental health journey. The narrative style, with its stream-of-consciousness elements, effectively conveys Biz’s inner turmoil and her perspective on the world around her.


In summary, Part I of “How It Feels to Float” is a poignant and introspective journey into the life of a teenager coping with loss, mental illness, and the complexities of growing up. It sets the stage for a deeper exploration of Biz’s journey towards healing and understanding.


Part 2:


In Part II,  the narrative delves deeper into Biz’s mental health journey and her struggle to come to terms with her father’s death and her own sense of identity.


During this part of the book, Biz’s mental state becomes more fragile, leading to a critical point where she is hospitalized. This experience marks a significant turning point in her life. In the hospital, Biz confronts the realities of her mental health, including her dissociative episodes and depression. The narrative presents a vivid portrayal of her experiences in the psychiatric ward, including her interactions with the medical staff and the impact of medication and therapy on her condition.


Biz’s relationships with her friends and family are further explored. Her bond with Jasper, her romantic interest, undergoes changes as she grapples with her mental health. Their relationship is depicted with complexity, illustrating the challenges that mental health issues can pose to personal connections.


Throughout this section, Biz continues to experience conversations with her deceased father, reflecting her ongoing struggle with grief and loss. These interactions highlight her longing for closure and understanding regarding her father’s death.


The narrative also explores themes of identity, sexuality, and the journey towards self-acceptance. Biz’s internal monologue provides insight into her thoughts and feelings, presenting a nuanced picture of a teenager navigating complex emotional landscapes.


Overall, Part II of “How It Feels to Float” is an intimate and poignant exploration of a young woman’s journey through mental illness, grief, and the path to healing. The book continues to employ a lyrical and introspective narrative style, inviting readers into Biz’s inner world as she faces her challenges and begins to find her way towards recovery and self-discovery.


Part 3:


Part III focuses on Biz’s ongoing journey towards understanding and healing in the aftermath of her mental health crisis.


In this section, Biz continues to navigate the complexities of her mental health, particularly grappling with the loss of her father and her own sense of self. The narrative delves deeper into her experiences with therapy and medication, providing a realistic portrayal of the challenges and gradual progress in mental health recovery.


Biz’s relationships with her friends and family undergo significant developments. Her bond with Jasper, her romantic interest, is explored in greater depth, depicting the impact of her mental health struggles on their relationship. The narrative also highlights the evolving dynamics with her mother and siblings, showcasing the family’s efforts to support each other through difficult times.


Throughout Part III, the theme of identity is prominent. Biz grapples with questions about her sexuality, her place in the world, and how she fits into her family and friend circles. The narrative portrays her journey of self-discovery and acceptance, underscored by her ongoing conversations with her deceased father, which continue to provide a window into her inner world and her process of coming to terms with her grief and loss.


The book maintains its introspective and lyrical narrative style, inviting readers to empathize deeply with Biz’s experiences. The chapters in this part of the book are marked by moments of clarity and insight, as Biz begins to find a way to live with her mental health issues and starts to envision a future for herself.


Overall, Part III of “How It Feels to Float” offers a moving and insightful exploration of recovery, resilience, and the journey towards understanding oneself. It concludes with a sense of hope and the notion that while life can be incredibly challenging, it also holds moments of beauty and possibility.


Part 4:


Part IV brings a poignant conclusion to Biz’s journey.


In these final chapters, the narrative centers around Biz’s gradual reintegration into her life after her hospitalization. There is a significant focus on her coming to terms with her father’s death, her mental health, and her identity. The interactions with her family, especially her mother, are deeply emotional, showing a mutual understanding and support as they both navigate their grief and loss.


Biz also reconnects with her friends, particularly Jasper, highlighting the changes and growth in their relationship. These interactions are tender and filled with the complexities of navigating relationships impacted by mental health struggles.


The conclusion of the story is marked by introspection and a sense of hope. Biz starts to accept her experiences and embraces the idea of moving forward, albeit with an understanding of the challenges that may lie ahead. The narrative suggests a future where Biz continues to heal and learn more about herself, though it acknowledges the ongoing nature of her journey with mental health.


Overall, Part IV of “How It Feels to Float” offers a thoughtful and hopeful ending to Biz’s story, emphasizing the themes of resilience, healing, and the power of support from loved ones. The book concludes with a sense of continuity, suggesting that while Biz’s journey is not without its difficulties, there is a path forward filled with potential and growth.


Helena Fox Quote

Most important keywords, sentences, quotes:


“Here I am, in borrowed bones, in makeshift skin, looking out it eyes that are a construct, breathing with lungs that are only a step–a basic rearrangement–away from leaves. How funny, to have a body when I am not a body? How funny, to be inside when I am outside.”


“He reaches across to touch me, but of course he can’t.”


“They say observation affects reality, that it can pin an electron into place. Until then, the electron is just a possibility, just an idea. Until it’s seen, it might as well not exist.”


“I am dead in infinite alternate universes. I am mostly and most likely dead, now, here. All doors opening, all doors closed.”


“I can feel the tightness of her skin when she saw the train, and how sweat sprang up a moment before the train hit— step and how our pupils widened step and turned my eyes to black.”


“Do you feel better?” And I’ve said, “Sometimes.” Which is possibly, almost, don’t-look-too-closely-or-it-might-go-away, true.”


“I don’t know what to say. So I don’t say anything, just stare at the text, and this is when I realise I might actually be invisible; maybe I am a ghost and I can’t text back because I don’t have fingers or a mind that functions and even though I can physically see myself maybe I’m 100 percent a lie.”


“I can’t speak. I feel the pistons of my heart moving, feel my lungs filling, emptying, my pores clogging. I feel the movement of the stars and I can hear the echo of all the black holes consuming everything.”


“And it’s so clear how far I’ve fallen. How far I am from where the stars are.”


Helena Fox Quote 2

Book Review (Personal Opinion):


“How It Feels to Float” is a beautifully crafted narrative that deeply resonates with its portrayal of mental illness, grief, and the journey towards understanding one’s identity. Fox’s ability to blend realism with the protagonist’s surreal experiences creates a powerful, immersive reading experience. 


The book’s strength lies in its honest depiction of mental health struggles, making it a poignant and meaningful read. The character development, especially of Biz, is handled with sensitivity and depth, bringing to life the complexities of teenage life. 


The narrative is both heart-wrenching and hopeful, making it a valuable read for those seeking understanding and empathy towards mental health issues. 


Rating: 8/10


This book is for (recommend):


  • Teenagers navigating mental health challenges.
  • Readers interested in young adult fiction that tackles serious themes.
  • Anyone looking to understand the impact of grief and loss in adolescence.


Helena Fox Quote 3

If you want to learn more


For those interested in exploring similar themes, consider reading books that focus on mental health, grief, and adolescence. Authors like John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson offer narratives that delve into these topics with depth and empathy.


How I’ve implemented the ideas from the book


The book’s exploration of coping with mental health issues has encouraged me to be more open in discussing mental health and to actively seek understanding and support when dealing with personal challenges.


One small actionable step you can do


One small but meaningful action you can take is to start a conversation about mental health with someone you trust. Opening up about your feelings or simply discussing the topic can foster understanding and support.


How It Feels To Float infographic