Review–The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

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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 

Review: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

Review originally appeared on my Goodreads Account. Review has been slightly edited: 

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From the author of Liars, Inc and Girl Against the Universe comes Vicarious, a rare YA thriller that also transcends the intended audience. This was SUCH a good read. Good YA thrillers are rare. This one is exceptional—so much so that it will appeal vastly to adult readers in general as well. It avoids the most common tropes in YA that are common reasons why some adults dislike young adult fiction. The overall story moves quickly and compellingly. For lovers of YA, no need to fear—there is absolutely plenty of YA here to love!

Winter and Rose currently live in St. Louis, having fled with Gideon after being victims of human trafficking. They now work in a high tech new industry where virtual reality now includes actually feeling as if you are within this experience. While the technology is fictional, with Stokes’ writing, you will have your heart racing in this twisty thriller almost as if the tech was real. It had my heart racing at several points, and I may have yelled things at a couple of points. After a burglary at the headquarters of the high tech company, they find a ViSE (virtual sensory experience) that suggests that Rose is dead. As the investigation takes place, Winter becomes more involved in the investigation. What unfolds is a fast pace and twisty wonderful thriller. The pace never truly slowed down. The ending had me literally standing up in disbelief.

Get this one. It’s too under the radar right now which is a shame because it is honestly ONE OF THE BEST YA books of 2016 (coming from a person who has currently read  183 books this year).

Oh–and one of the best parts? The second book comes out next year. Yes, it’s a duology, and it absolutely needs a sequel.

Final rating: 5/5

GET THIS ONE NOW. Here’s the link to help you: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

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The Reader by Traci Chee is the first book in the Sea of Ink and Gold Trilogy. Taking place in the world of Kelanna, we meet Sefia. Sefia is on the run with her aunt Nin. Years prior, she came home to find her father dead. Her family, however, planned for this real possibility, and Sefia escapes through a tunnel with a mysterious package. She returns to Nin, and the two go off together on the run from whomever attacked her father.

Why is Sefia so important? As it turns out, the mysterious package that she took with her is actually a book. In the world of Kelanna, the majority of people have never learned to read or write—nor do they even know what a book is. This, however, is no ordinary book that Sefia has in her possession.

After Nin is captured, Sefia is forced to fend for herself as well as to try to track down those who kidnapped Nin. While this is happening, Sefia discovers the package and is initally confused by the pages inside. However, because she remembers her parents trying to teach her letters when she was a child, she soon realizes that there is meaning within the pages and figures out how to read.

Relatively soon into the story, she meets Archer who becomes a close companion. This is not a case, however, where a male character comes in and just takes over. The two actually complement each other well, and both have vital roles in moving the story forward.

This story is told in third person; however, it is told through multiple perspectives. At times, this can be extremely difficult to follow as there is a rather large cast of characters. During those times, I wished that there were a “cast of character” page to help me keep better track. However, as I continued to read the story, it became more clear as to why this was not given as not everything is as straight-forward as it initially seems.

I must confess that I normally loathe fantasy books. I find them difficult to get into for some reason, and I consistently abandon them. However, I decided to try this book. (How I could I not?! It’s called The Reader after all.) I am so glad I did! There is just enough fantasy element where it is still a fantasy, but it is a more subtle fantasy which helped me really get into the story. It was actually the first non-sequel I’ve read in years where I didn’t temporarily abandon it. (For example, it took me 3 tries before I got into An Ember in the Ashes–glad I stuck that one out.)

I strongly suspect this is going to be a trilogy where each book just keeps getting better. I am intrigued with what will happen next, and I will definitely buy the next book in the trilogy whenever it comes out!

Final note: When you read, keep an eye on the page numbers. You might just find something there….

Final rating: 4/5

Link to book: The Reader by Traci Chee

Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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This book is full of a harsh truth.

Sometimes, with a mental illness, there is no “better.” Sometimes, there is no true healing to be found. BUT life can still be lived anyway. It’s just a matter of figuring out exactly how.

The story begins with Charlie at Creely Center, a facility in which they treat mental health problems–specifically in this case self harm along with other co-morbid disorders. Charlie, while initially silent, eventually starts to talk to those who want to help her. Then, reality interferes. Due to an issue with insurance, Charlie is released to her mother who promptly sends her off with a bus ticket to live with an old friend in Arizona.

Charlie’s life is brutal. Her story is hard to read it at times. You are cheering for Charlie to get better & to make progress, and you will be sad and frustrated when it doesn’t seem like that is consistently happening.

This book is absolutely brutal at times. While I’ve read a lot of young adult books that deal with mental health issues, I’ve never read one quite like this. Instead of seeing Charlotte’s life come back together after a stay in a mental health center, we read of her trying to keep her life together when she doesn’t know how and the steady decline that occurs instead. It’s realistic. It isn’t pretty, but it’s realistic for many people.

The writing is compelling. For those that do not struggle with their own mental health difficulties, this book can give you an accurate fictional insight into what it’s like, especially with cutting.

For readers that struggle with cutting, it may be a bit too much. From the author’s note at the end, she writes from first hand experience the emotions of cutting. As someone who has also cut, I can tell you that Glasgow’s depiction of this is very similar to my own experience. If you struggle or previously have struggled, you will need to make a decision as to whether this book is going to do you more good than harm. Although I read it when I was wanted to relapse back into cutting, I personally did not find myself too affected by the book in my decisions to fight or not.

I last cut in April 2012. I kept my blade on me for 5 more months before I made a decision to surrender it voluntarily to a friend. In this particular story, you learn about Charlie’s tender kit–basically her ritual. For some readers, they may not understand. For me, however, that was the first time I read anything where someone understood…where someone so badly wanted to be done with cutting but needed to have the choice & the means to go back. Even though it has been nearly 4.5 years since I last cut, there are still days where I desperately want to cut again and nights where I have to wrestle away any sharp object I may find.

This book truly gets what it means that recovery is not a destination—it is a journey that does not have an ending, and it is journey full of setbacks & anguish but also small triumphs.

There will be some readers that will hate this book. Unlike most YA books that deal with mental health, this one doesn’t have this super positive ending—it is hopeful, however. For me, as someone who has had depression for years, for whom therapy sometimes works & sometimes medication helps, but isn’t getting permanently better, it was something that was still hopeful. It acknowledged that people like me exist. While I love reading those mental health YA books with a “happily ever after” type of ending (as I still hope that one day I can have that happen to me), reading one where it just ended with mild hope GIVES ME HOPE that my mental illnesses are still compatible with life–even if I don’t reach that point of permanently being okay.

Overall, highly compelling, well-written, brutally realistic of a tough mental health situation and tough situation overall.

Final rating: 4.5/5

Link to book: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Review: Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

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I adore this book.

This book begins at the Hackensack Police Department with Vic inside of an interrogation room. 8 days prior, Vic walked out of his home and disappeared. Now, he is back with Mad and Baz—who is the primary suspect in a murder investigation.

Although this story begins inside of an interrogation room, this is not a murder mystery. It’s instead a way to frame the story and more so used as a setting.

Because the book is told in an non-linear fashion, I found the beginning of the book a bit difficult to understand and to truly get into the story line. However, as I continued reading, the pieces at the beginning that did not quite make sense began to make sense. If you are reading it or plan to read it, make sure to keep reading even if you are frustrated at the beginning. It’ll be worth it!

Vic’s father died 2 years prior. His mother, dealing with grief the best she can, falls in love with a new man. On the night that he proposes to her, Vic steals his father’s ashes and storms out of the house. While intending to release his father’s ashes, Vic instead discovers a note in which his father gave clear directions to his mother on how to release his ashes. Shortly after that, Mad enters his life. Mad, a girl obsessed with The Outsiders provides Vic with a place to stay for the night, and the next day, she introduces him to a rag-tag group of people—Baz, Coco, and Nzuzi. The four of them agree to take in Vic as a “Chapter,” a concept best explained by reading the book. Together, they begin to a journey to discover the places Vic’s father mentions in the letter.

Along the way, we find out more about Baz’s and Nzuzi’s shared history as well as Coco’s history. The story is also told through the perspective of Mad so we learn more of her story too.

This is a story where there is beauty in the broken, in finding each other in this brokenness and together creating something more beautiful–and beginning to actually heal.

It’s a story in which you will get to the end and want to immediately begin again ala the Hinton Vortex.

While I liked Arnold’s debut novel Mosquitoland, I feel that Arnold’s writing  and ability to craft a story has only improved—this is one Super Racehorse of a book.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Absolutely get this one: Kids of Appetite–David Arnold

Review: The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely

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The Last True Love Story is a gorgeous book. As the book begins, we are introduced to Teddy Hendrix, better known as Hendrix. Hendrix’s father died when he was young, and his mother compensated by increasing how much she worked. As a result, Hendrix was mostly raised by his Gpa. Sadly, however, his Gpa is now facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and is living in a care facility. Gpa begins to decline, and Hendrix begins to witness this decline on his visits. On one such visit, after his Gpa is able to remember where he is and who he is, his Gpa asks Hendrix to allow him to go home to Ithaca, NY one last time before he forgets what home actually is.

Immediately after this visit, Hendrix meets Corrina who was adopted from Guatemala into a white family in the U.S. This family, while well intending, seems to be suffocating her. After an unfortunate event, Corrina just wants to escape. (Note: Hendrix and Corrina had previously gone to school together and had taken a class together. This is not a story where he meets a random stranger his age and embarks on a journey. While Corrina is not remotely well known to him, he does know her.)

This is where the plan to take Gpa back to Ithaca, NY unfolds. Checking Gpa out for a “family reunion,” Gpa, Hendrix, Corrina, and Hendrix’s dog Skipper (aka Old Humper) embark on a road trip of all road trips. Over the next 200+ pages, we learn more about Gpa’s past, more about Corrina’s frustrations and uncertainties, and more about Hendrix’s mysterious father. As they quickly find out, you have to respect the road trip, but the road trip won’t always go as planned.

I loved the way this YA novel did not shy away from identity crisis for any of the main characters. Kiely also wrote the scenes with Gpa where Alzheimer’s became more aggressive in a way that can really connect an audience and allow them to understand the confusion, pain, and frustration it can cause for all involved. It was a story too that dealt a bit with redemption from a painful, painful back story that is revealed in time. Additionally, this story is unique in the way that it dealt with a main character being raised by a grandparent—and what happens when that grandparent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

Definitely worth a read. Check it out here: The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely

Why Adam Silvera and David Arnold rock

Several weeks ago, I found out that David Arnold was going to be coming to Anderson’s Book Shop, an independent book store in the Chicago suburbs. I freaked out. I had liked Mosquitoland, and all of the advanced reviews of Kids of Appetite (especially those that said one of the main characters was obsessed with The Outsiders which is still my favorite book after nearly 10 years) led me to highly anticipate the new one.

When the book shop officially announced the event, I flipped out because Adam Silvera, author of More Happy Than Not, would be appearing too. I had read his book in May of this year, and it was one of the most refreshing books I had read in a while.

I was highly anticipating the event, but as the event grew closer, my mental health just kept deteriorating. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for years, and I’ve had depression for 7 years. While I have not gotten “all better,” I’ve had seasons where life is very manageable. This past month was not one of those times. My anxiety intensified, leading to multiple panic attacks. The day of the David Arnold/Adam Silvera signing, I became so overwhelmed with everything I had to do, nearly cried in front of people at work, and had a panic attack. I tweet my pain sometimes primarily because it’s easier & safer to say words there than what I used to do to myself (aka cut). I tweeted that day that I had been anticipating the event, but now all I wanted to do was cry in the corner for the rest of the night. David Arnold actually replied so compassionately, and even though I’d been considering staying at home and not going, I said, “NO. I’m going to go.”

I got to the bookstore an hour early, and even though my mind was running all over the place, I finally got my pre-ordered copy of Kids of Appetite, and I started reading to try to calm myself down.

Once the event actually started, I was still having pretty moderate anxiety symptoms, including literally shaking, but as David Arnold and Adam Silvera talked, I started to calm down. They spoke about David’s new book, and they also hosted a debate. They debated the merits of Double Stuf oreos versus Golden Oreos. They debated who the best Harry Potter character was. As it all unfolded, I actually found myself laughing and actually enjoying being present without anxiety overwhelming me.

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After the debates, they decided to have a Q&A time. Normally, during author q&a times, I am completely dumbfounded that these authors are real and cannot think of literally anything at all to say. This time, however, was different. Adam called on me for the first question, and I asked him how he got locked inside of a bathroom that day. What followed was one of the funniest stories ever. The questions continued, and as things were starting to slow down, I actually remembered my other question for David, and this girl–who is normally so anxious that she cannot ask anything at an author event & had had a massive panic attack hours early–got to ask a second question about his music and whether his books shaped his music or if his music shaped his books.

During the signing line, David looked at me, and he asked, “hey, were you the one that tweeted that early?” When I confirmed that I was, he told me he was so glad that I made it out and hoped I took care of myself. When I mentioned that I hadn’t canceled a therapy appointment when I wanted to cancel it, he seemed relieved to hear that.

As he finished signing my book, I moved down to Adam, but Adam had stuffed an entire golden Oreo into his mouth right before that moment, and he couldn’t say anything or do anything because he was trying to finish it as quickly as he could. I literally just stood there laughing.

We got an awesome picture together, and then Adam signed More Happy Than Not  for me with the longest book inscription I have ever seen. Even more impressive was his ability to talk to me and write at the same exact time. He told me that he had loved seeing my enthusiasm for this event. I told him too how basically books and music were the best part of my life which he loved. He asked me if I had read his book yet, and I confirmed I had–and had read just sat there and read the first 50 pages of Kids of Appetite before the event. He asked if I was a fast reader, & I responded by telling him how many books I had read this year (177–now at 180). He responded by saying, “oh so you’re behind,” and I laughed.

Truthfully, how David Arnold and Adam Silvera both responded to me at the event, their interactions with me, their personalities during the q&a and the debate, and their overall social media presence really altered the trajectory of my week. While this week was still absolutely brutal, it was a week where I remembered that people care about me, even people that don’t really know me. For a person with persistent mental health problems, this is something that is so life-sustaining on the days where I’d rather be in bed all day or on the days where I have moments where wish I wasn’t alive.

It’s just so genuinely refreshing to know that the authors of the books I love actually do care about their readers. Considering the types of YA books I read, it makes sense that it would be the case, and I’m glad that so far this fall, I’m finding it to be true.

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Final note: I finished Kids of Appetite last night, and I absolutely adored it. Book review will be coming soon!