Published by Random House Children's Books on October 11th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Social Themes, Depression, Suicide, Family, General
Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disorder, almost triumphed once; that was her first suicide attempt.
Being bipolar is forever. It never goes away. The med du jour might work right now, but Zero will be back for her. It’s only a matter of time.
And so, in an old ballet-shoe box, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its living death on her again. Before she goes, though, she starts a short bucket list.
The bucket list, the support of her family, new friends, and a new course of treatment all begin to lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. The problem is, her plan is already in place, and has been for so long that she might not be able to see a future beyond it.
This is a story of loss and grief and hope, and how some of the many shapes of love—maternal, romantic, and platonic—affect a young woman’s struggle with mental illness and the stigma of treatment.
In Karen Fortunati’s debut The Weight of Zero, Catherine is struggling with bipolar disorder and trying to win the war with Zero (her depression). She agrees to try a new intensive outpatient program, but meanwhile stockpiles pills for Zero’s inevitable return. But what if Zero doesn’t arrive as planned- can she dare hope for the future?
This week brought in World Mental Health Day, and with its arrival is one of the best YA books on mental health. In many YA reads we’ve seen the protagonists turn their nose up on medication and therapy, which is sending the wrong message and going against mental health expert’s advice. It was great to see so many people sharing their experience with mental health and support on the #WorldMentalHealthDay tag. I struggled myself with anxiety in high school so much that I would cut class if there was an oral presentation, so it’s encouraging to see that there is less stigma and more awareness of mental health issues now.
Catherine’s mental health struggles are not glossed over, and we see her mood improve gradually- there are no easy fixes. Catherine’s voice is authentic, and it felt like the author did her research on bipolar disorder. (An Author’s Note explains the motives for writing the book and includes helpful resources)
Catherine’s isolation and the guilt she feels over her Mom’s hard work and stress rang true. You don’t always see the caregiver’s side of things in stories about mental illness, and I think that was handled well here.
I enjoyed the cast of characters we meet on Catherine’s journey. Catherine attends group therapy daily and gets to see others coping with similar struggles. New people enter her life this school year, including a romantic interest, and with him his protective, loving family.
The Weight of Zero is an important, hopeful read that stands apart from other YA books on the topic of mental health. It’s raw and hard to read at times, especially if you suffer or have a loved one who does, but hopeful and well worth your time.