Review: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

The Weight of Zero book coverThere has been a lot of books about mental illness coming out lately, which I think is great as long as the author handles it carefully. The Weight of Zero is definitely a standout in the crowd of these books for its authenticity and solid story.

Cath Puloski has bipolar disorder (type I, which involves possible psychosis during the mania periods). And she’s already gone through some destructive mania periods and significant long-term depression as well. She used to be a ballet dancer but has quit it. Her two best friends abandoned her a few months earlier and one in particular has now made it her life’s work to humiliate Cath at every possible moment. The same one told the entire school about her disorder and now everyone mocks her and calls her crazy.

When the book opens, Cath’s fairly stable. Not (very) depressed; not manic. But she’s obsessed with her disorder and how it’s ruined her life, as she sees it. She’s convinced that the depression will eventually return and she has a plan for that: she’ll kill herself before it can really take hold. Like most potential suicides, she’s convinced that her mom (her only family) will be better off with her dead because Cath feels like a massive burden. She feels generally worthless because she thinks she’s genetically deficient and that none of her peers could possibly care about her.

Her psychiatrist has recommended that she start a group therapy program that runs every day after school. She doesn’t want to go at all, as she’s sort of checked out of trying to get better because she thinks she can’t. But her mom makes her go. She meets some new characters there, including Kristal, who becomes her first post-diagnosis friend. The other change in her routine occurs when she gets paired up with Michael for a big history project. Both things take her life a direction she thought impossible.

The book deals with the reality of bipolar disorder exceptionally well. We’re in the psychiatrist’s office with Cath while her doctor explains aspects of the disorder but the story focuses on her reaction to that information, so the reader is picking up knowledge about it without it feeling clinical. I thought that was really well done.

Cath’s voice is great. She’s very believable even when she’s thinking things that the reader knows are totally wrong. And best of all, she’s funny—not constantly, but every so often. It’s just right. For instance, she reacts to the leader of the therapy group’s change in tactics:

This is a novel spin on the IOP experience—Sandy pitching our mental illness issues like they’re black badges of courage. The few, the brave, the bipolar.

The other characters were also well drawn. Cath’s mom is wonderful—you feel so bad for her because you know what Cath’s planning despite the fact that she’s trying so hard to do everything right. The plot is strong and there’s a great subplot with the history project (and the way it ties into Cath’s life and thoughts is perfect).

Overall, an excellent book that I genuinely loved. Everyone should read it.