Blog Tour: ARC Review: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: The Weight of Zero
author: Karen Fortunati
pages: 400
format: Paperback
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5 (from hated to loved) or 7.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Sarah Dessen anything, or Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.
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.

in depth

  • I was so excited to be asked to be part of the blog tour for The Weight of Zero after coming across it on Goodreads earlier this year.  If you've traversed my blog at all, you know I'm a huge supporter of mental health awareness, and that means good books about mental illness.  And this, my friends, is one of the good ones.  While it's not free of tropes (and it wouldn't be me if I didn't nitpick a little), and it's not an easy book (trigger warnings for suicide), Catherine's story is a heart-wrenching, breathtakingly authentic story of one girl's struggle not to let her illness define her.  

  • Catherine has bipolar disorder.  She has high highs and low lows--so low that she nearly overdosed last year in an attempt to escape.  Lows she calls "Zero."  With a new psychiatrist and a new therapy group, she's finding hope for the first time, but the sentence of a life with bipolar disorder and Zero's next move is hanging over her head.  So she has an escape plan: the pill bottles she keeps in a shoe box under her late grandmother's bed.  

  • There are some elements of her story that irk me a little when they show up in mental illness books.  The kids at school make fun of her, call her crazy and post pictures of Girl, Interrupted on her locker.  I know bullying is real and problematic, but I just can't imagine my classmates doing that.  What about some nuance?  People giving her a wide berth but not being outright cruel?  Maybe if I didn't see it in so many books, it wouldn't bug me so much.  

  • Soapbox aside, most of it is one of the best portrayals of therapy and recovery I've ever read.  The comparison to Girl, Interrupted is apt here.  Cath's psychiatrist knows what he's doing and truly cares about her.  Medication is viewed as a choice, something helpful.  Therapy group is full of teens with various problems coming together, being awkward and emotional and difficult and doing actual worksheets from an actual treatment.  There's even talk about vaginismus and birth control.  While it gets a little teachy, it's also a book I would have given my soul for when I was 15, to see that this was something people did, could do.  

  • Learning to engage in therapy is a huge and deeply affecting part of Cath's story.  In bonding with other teens who struggle with life, she learns not only that she isn't alone, but that in discounting the pain of others, she's been artificially isolating herself.  She develops a strong friendship with Kristal, a wicked smart prep school girl in denial about her bulimia.  But she, too, isn't just a disorder.  She's fun and friendly.  She loves too quickly, but she loves deeply, and she's not afraid to call Catherine on her bullshit.  

  • The other piece is her relationships.  Yes, there's a group project.  Get your groans out and move on.  Cath pinpoints her partner Michael as a last human connection before her Zero escape plan (guess what L.V. stands for?), but discovers that not everyone is an ex-friend or a bully.  In Michael and his quirky family, she finds people who genuinely want to know her.  And while Michael is definitely swoony (and exceptionally nerdy), he's not her savior.  He's just one piece of her realization that she is more than her disorder.  Their project, a black female WWII veteran, is Cath's source of strength and inspiration--a little heavyhanded at times with the girlpower stuff and themes of prejudice that are underxplored, but an interesting backbone for Cath's journey of self-awareness.  

  • The final piece is family.  Cath struggles with her grandmother's death and her mother's debilitating anxiety.  Thinks her mom would be better off without her.  Fortunati is delicate but realistic in how she portrays the way Cath's struggles affect her mom.  She's an anxious wreck, working extra jobs and terrified to leave her daughter alone.  Their relationship and their understanding of each other evolves as Cath's understanding of herself and her illness evolves.  It's one of the healthiest, most present parent-child relationships I've read in YA, in the end.  

  • I could analyze this more.  Maybe I will, in another post.  What I hope you get from this review is that this is a solid, authentic, no-nonsense book.  It portrays recovery from mental illness as the complicated, difficult, but possible thing it is.  It shows relationships that are rocky but worthwhile.  Adults who are caring and actually competent.  The importance of self-awareness and empathy.  It's all wrapped up in Catherine's sharp, believable voice and Fortunati's clear-as-a-bell, insightful prose.  The ending drags a bit too long for my taste--I didn't need the epilogue--but, in the end, it's a celebration of all the ways that life, difficult and messy, triumphs.  

        in a sentence

        The Weight of Zero is a lovingly realistic story of one girl's struggle to fit mental illness into her life and her future.    


        will i read this author again?  Yes! 
        will i continue the series?  N/A 

        Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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