Debut author Karen Fortunati has released a beautiful book into the world with The Weight of Zero. Catherine, the main character of the book, is living with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. So far for Catherine, she has had two manic episodes as well as a depressive episode in which she attempted suicide.
For Catherine, she has this fear that the great Zero, that low and dark depression will return. She attends therapy, takes medication, and begins an intensive outpatient program. Despite doing all of the so-called right things, she has the persistent fear that Zero will return, and she prepares herself for it. She creates a plan of one thing to do before that day comes, and she initially sets out to achieve it.
For Catherine, she deals with the loss of friends from her diagnosis, but for the first time since that happened, she is beginning to find friends. The problem, however, is that she is so fearful of the past repeating itself, she does not tell them of her diagnosis.
The book continues with exploring these friendships, her relationship with her mom, the grief of missing her grandmother, and the impending return of the Zero.
This book is beautiful. There are so many things this book does well. The adult characters in this book are wonderful. So often in YA mental health lit books, the adult characters are presented as wildly unhelpful. Instead, here they are presented as flawed, well-intended, & caring characters, ones who also own up to their mistakes. One of my favorite characters was Nonny who was brilliantly written. The use of the different treatment methods was also done very well. Additionally, the use of the male relationship figure was treated perfectly as well. In way too many books, it feels like a relationship is used as a way to “fix” a character. This, however, is not the case here.
Fortunati has created an absolutely beautiful piece of art, and it is an absolute must-read.
—And here is where I break from my normal review.
While I do not have bipolar disorder, I have chronic depression which also presents with massive depressive episodes. Like Catherine, I watched my grandma die. I also watched my 10 week old nephew die. Both events were absolutely devastating, and while I was already sick during these events, both events helped to trigger further mental health episodes.
For me, I know the weight of this great Zero. I know what it’s like to feel it looming over me, and for me, I sometimes am completely terrified that my life will end with me taking it.
This book, while brilliant in its own right, just gets it. It gets what it’s like to feel that impending death looming over you, regardless of your diagnosis. It gets what it’s like to want to compare your pain to others and be stuck so much inside your head that you become oblivious to the pain of others.
But it also gets what it is like to have unexpected hope. It gets what it is like to have moments that come that allow for a shift to take place. To paraphrase a quotation from my favorite article about Abraham Lincoln, it knows what it’s like to be able to shift from wondering “how can I still live?” to “how will I live?”
This book is so important. It’s one that is needed in literature. For me, it was one of the first times in a while where I was able to say: “I’m not as alone as I thought.”
Final rating: 5/5
Link to book: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati