SUMMER READING: ‘Trying to Float’

For those looking to enjoy a lighthearted yet well-crafted summer read, 18-year-old author Nicolaia Rips’ debut book, “Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel,” is a great pick. Rips’ brilliant memoir recounts her childhood spent in an eccentric neighborhood, presenting an authentic perspective on adolescence with a delightful touch of humor and intrigue.

As Rips explains in her author’s note, “Trying to Float” was borne of the loneliness and frustration she felt throughout her time in middle school. Rips’ parents — tired of hearing her daily list of woes — told her to “write it down,” and luckily for her readers, she did. What resulted was a collection of stories that are charming, relatable and fascinating.

The coming-of-age tale explores Rips’s life in the Chelsea Hotel, a residence in New York City well-known for “its writers, artists and musicians, but also for its drug addicts, alcoholics and eccentrics.” The hotel, now a historic landmark, developed its notorious reputation in the late 20th century, particularly after Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, was found murdered in one of the rooms in 1978.

Early on in the novel, it is clear that, much like the Chelsea Hotel itself, the people in Rips’ life are anything but typical. Her mother is an artist filled with wanderlust, and her father is a brilliant but distracted writer. The two live spontaneously and without restrictions, and Rips’ life is affected as a result. She is only put in preschool at the age of four when, according to her, “it had occurred to my parents that I should be in preschool.”

One of the most delightful excerpts of the novel comes from an interview between Rips’ parents and the headmistress of the preschool they had hoped for her to attend. When asked what his daughter would contribute to the school if admitted, Rips’ father comments:

“To be honest, not that much … She is hard to understand — even to those who love her; she can’t follow the illustrations in picture books, much less learn all twenty-six letters of the alphabet; she isn’t athletic and is getting chubby; and, between us, she doesn’t have any friends.”

The headmistress stared at him.

“But there is one thing…”

Good God.

“If you need someone to deliver an after-dinner toast, there is none better — at least in her age group.”

It is moments like these that truly capture the essence of the novel; it is quirky, funny and self-deprecating all at once. Rips is also successful in her ability to interpret and explain the nuances of human behavior. Throughout “Trying to Float,” she often writes about awkward or painful personal experiences, engaging the reader by highlighting moments of joy and comedy even in her personal failures. This narrative is woven over the ever-present backdrop of growing up, Rips’ continuous quest for identity, and her desire to figure out not only how to live but how to live with purpose.

Rips’ well-crafted account of her troubles making friends in elementary and middle school and her winding path of self-discovery — challenges any person could relate to — are delightfully framed by her unconventional living situation and her interactions with the offbeat inhabitants of the Chelsea Hotel. This juxtaposition comes together to form a beautifully relatable yet remarkably original narrative that is sure to amuse readers of all ages.

While one could argue that the novelty of “Trying to Float” is rooted in Rips’ experience living in the eccentric Chelsea Hotel, it is undeniable that she is a talented wordsmith who captures readers with her vivid, relatable stories. Hopefully Rips, a graduate of the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and rising sophomore at Brown University, will continue to “write it down” so that we can read more tales of her extraordinary life.

alexandraheadshotAlexandra Brunjes is a sophomore in the College. Summer Reading appears every other Sunday. 

 

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