High school is an intense experience for anyone; whether that experience may be positive or negative. It’s a unique time for a person because scientifically speaking this period is the most chemical-inducing for the brain. As one’s body transforms from adolescence into adulthood, that first-time feeling mixes with this precarious chemical balance in the brain, making every emotion more stimulated and every experience more vivid. Karen Fortunati’s novel, The Weight of Zero, beautifully and delicately illustrates the idea of chemically balanced and imbalanced minds through the main character’s, Catherine Pulaski’s, experience living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic disorder. I decided to read and review this book in honor of Mental Health Month, but I ended up connecting to this book for so many reasons.
This book is not one I had heard of before I found and picked it up in my local library, which is a shame because it seriously deserves a spotlight for accurately portraying the mindset of a mental illness. I myself have experienced an eating disorder as a freshman in college and have had depression from the age of fifteen. The thing I loved about this book is how it explains that mental illnesses are not magically cured overnight but rather it takes a long process to overcome, or, in most cases, to live with your mental illness. It took me a year of extensive, twice a week out-patient therapy to finally grasp control of my eating disorder. And even though years have passed, I still have those dark-eating-disorder-consuming thoughts. And every now and then my depression does creep up and return to become a stagnant part of my life. But despite that, I have learned to live with those dark times and to live my life. And that’s why I hold this book in such high regard, because Fortunati carefully arcs the narrative around recovery and recovering after each and every downfall.
I wish this novel was more well-known in the YA community, because it can relate to many people even if they don’t have a mental illness. Because everyone experiences low and high moments in their life, and this book can easily connect with people who are experiencing those extremes of emotions too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that perfectly captures the depth of depression and how numbing it can be as well as this novel does. Catherine says it best when she explains how one of the hardest things about depression is in trying to explain to others the feeling of depression’s numbness:
“I couldn’t tell her that I was submerged. Numbed. Unable to feel anything. My spectrum of emotions had been obliterated, my feelings, all of them, good and bad, had gone AWOL. And someone who has never felt it can understand what the absence of emotion feels like. It is a hopelessness of incomprehensible, unspeakable weight.” (5)
I won’t give any spoilers about this book’s ending, but what I really liked is how the beginning of this novel starts after Catherine experiences a manic episode which spirals into a suicide attempt due to the onset stressor of her grandmother’s death. Beginning the story in the aftermath brilliantly exemplifies the novel’s theme of recovery in that there will always be an after – a time to come where you can live your life.
I’m glad I discovered this book and I know it will hold a spot in my heart for years to come. So, if you’re looking for a book that dives into psychology or just need something uplifting during a difficult time in your life, then I recommend The Weight of Zero.
If you or anyone you know needs help or is expressing suicidal thoughts, please know that you are not alone and there are people here for you who want to help you. You can reach out for help or guidance at the following number below: