Review: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

Posted January 7, 2017 by Samantha in Reviews / 5 Comments

Review: The Weight of Zero by Karen FortunatiThe Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Published by Random House Children's Books on October 11th 2016
Genres: Depression & Mental Illness, Family, General, Social Themes, Suicide, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Rating: five-starsfive-starsfive-starsfive-starsfive-stars

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.


Catherine has bipolar disease. While the manic side is no picnic, Cath knows the biggest danger is Zero, the deep, dark depression side that prompted a suicide attempt. While Cath is on medication and says she’s fine, she secretly keeps a stockpile of meds, ready to use when Zero comes back, as he is sure to do. While Cath nervously awaits his arrival, she finds he keeps getting delayed. Cath starts a new therapy group, connects more with her psychiatrist, makes a few new friends, and starts to find a different perception of her bipolar disease. Cath struggles to decide how much she can, and is willing, to survive in this story of grief, heartache, love, and hope.

Karen Fortunati’s stunning contemporary, THE WEIGHT OF ZERO, tackles heavy topics that will leave you in tears. Catherine is a remarkable protagonist, full of wit, anger, grief, and heart. Her journey is one that is crucial and realistic to anyone with a mental illness, especially those with bipolar disease. Catherine struggles to accept that her mental illness is a lifelong one; there is no one cure that will fix everything. She continues to feel grief over the loss of her beloved grandmother, while also feeling guilty for the strain she believes she puts on her single mother. Not to mention, she’s hurting over the friends who left her when they found out her disease, and the people at school who still taunt her for it.

Part of her treatment is group therapy, and this has one of the best depictions of group therapy I’ve ever seen. All of the group members are around the same age, many going to the same high school, and Fortunati balances the inherit awkwardness, teen social dynamics, and the need for those in pain to connect with others. This evolves into a specific private universe for Catherine where she learns she has more in common with her group members than she thought, that she can make new friends even though her old ones left her, and that sometimes hearing that someone else has experienced similar pain can truly help.

There are layers of different relationships in THE WEIGHT OF ZERO, all brilliant in their own right. Catherine begins the story believing her mother would be better off without her, but her journey shifts her thought process in a number of ways, showing how interdependence works. Catherine also experiences what a healthy friendship looks like, as she befriends one of her group therapy members. She learns what it means to be honest with friends and to brave them knowing the real you, while also knowing when to call them out if necessary. The romance is also a moving element of the novel, exploring how no relationship can work when someone is holding back and that part of trust is sincere communication.

A gem of a novel, THE WEIGHT OF ZERO dives headfirst into the reality of mental illness, and the hope, joy, and happiness that living can bring while healthily preparing and strategizing for positive coping mechanisms when life is hard.

Originally posted at YABC:



5 Responses to “Review: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati”

  1. This sound like powerful and well-done read. The author sounds like she’s captured the details of mental illness that aren’t always done well generally.

  2. I’ve seen this one pop up a few times in the blogosphere, but never actually read anything about it. It sounds brilliant, and I’m glad it has the best depiction of group therapy, because the ones I read didn’t really convince me. Lovely review Samantha!
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