Title: The Weight of Zero
Author: Karen Fortunati
Pages: 400 pages
Release Date: October 11th, 2016
Source: ARC from the publishers
Genre: Mental Health, Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 4/5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Cath knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles meds, preparing to take her own life when Zero next arrives.
But Zero’s return is delayed. Unexpected relationships along with the care of a new psychiatrist start to alter Catherine's perception of her diagnosis. But will this be enough? This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.
The manuscript was awarded the 2014 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in the Contemporary YA category, named a finalist in the 2015 Tassey-Walden Awards and won the Serendipity Literary Agency 2013 YA First Page/Novel Discovery Contest.
Buy it now!
**I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected my review in any way.**
Catherine Pulaski is a 17-year-old girl who suffers from bipolar disorder. She spends her days living in fear that one day Zero will return for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine's bipolar disorder, which almost triumphed through her first suicide attempt. She knows Zero will come back for her, and she will take whatever time she has left before she ultimately decides to end her life when Zero makes its imminent arrival. But before that... she's got a bucket list of things to do.
Fortunati really emphasizes the longevity of Catherine's mental illness, something that is often neglected in most of the mental health-related books I've read. I feel like some books portray a character's mental illness as this hurdle to be knocked down or conquered and that once it's treated, it's gone forever. I believe quite the opposite actually. Mental illness is something that stays apart of a person forever and all one can do is not 'treat it' or 'extinguish it', but just to learn how to live with it. Even embrace it, in some cases.
Catherine may be one of the most compelling characters I've ever read about. Her perspective on her own life is so morose and grim. In the beginning of the book, she's literally just waiting for Zero to come so she can take her own life. She believes herself to be such an inconvenience to her teachers, her (ex) friends and to even her mom. These parts of the book were often most painful to read about, as I can imagine so many other teenager girls and boys feeling this way.
There was also some dark humor, which was pretty obvious through Fortunati's word choices. It gave the story this light-hearted sense and quelled the fact that, yes indeed, we're talking about mental illness and depression.
"It's actually a pretty easy decision when you get right to it. And honorable, I think. I'm intrinsically damaged, so I'll switch out my life for my mother's...."I found myself marking the pages with the phrase '#relatable' on more than one occasion. As someone who has experienced mental illness, I found everything that Catherine felt to be true to my personal experience. Even the little things like how her throat would tighten to the bigger things such as how alienated she felt from the world. My ability to empathize with the main character made my reading of her all the more enjoyable.
"I will take whatever time I have left and kill myself when Zero makes Catherine-landfall. When he's entrenched in my head and has poisoned my world alien and gray. I will do it with the contents of tis shoe box. A conscious decision to refuse to live my life this way, under the conditions."
- The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
The side characters played as big a role as the main protagonist did. This isn't a story about just Catherine's struggle, but the struggle of so many others she has touched and met along the way. For example, we learn a lot about her mother's hardship between juggling 2 jobs and worrying about if and when her daughter might try another attempt on her life. She's a single mom who is obligated to pay for all of Catherine's medical bills and put food on the table. I loved Catherine's mom so much! She was such a trooper and through all the sacrifices she made for Cath, I wanted to pat her on the back for being such a supporter. We also meet Kristal, who is a fellow patient at the St. Anne's support group. Kristal is a recovering patient of an eating disorder. Rarely do I read books where the side characters play just as an important role in the story as the main character.
I liked the symbolism scattered throughout the book. One really important symbol was her stockpile of meds she keeps in an old ballet shoe box. I thought they were a concrete visualization of her control of her own life. She had the power to take her own life in her hands, yet she refused on more than one occasion. If I were to reread this book, a closer analyzation of this symbol would have to be in order!
Catherine was such a complex and endearing character, who was in this constant battle with her depression. As the reader, you could see Catherine getting better with each visit to the support group and her interactions with her friends and family. Due to her grim perspective on her illness, however, Catherine fails to see that and plunges in further into the abyss of her bipolar disorder. It wasn't so much of Catherine using her strength to fight off her illness, but more like her having to find that strength through the duration of the book.
I've read a lot of books that romanticize mental health, and I'm so so so so so glad that this book wasn't one of them. There was a romance in this book, don't get me wrong, it's just that the romance wasn't the main focal point of this story. Catherine didn't find her strength through meeting and falling for Michael. Their relationship is even awkward at times, which I thought was very realistic and well-done. Yep that's right people, the princess saves herself in this one.
I'm surprised this book isn't getting more hype. It was beautifully written and such a great addition to the genre of mental health. I'm ready to jump into anything else Karen Fortunati has for me to read!!