by Karen Fortunati
To be published by Delacorte Press
on October 11, 2015
Source: ARC sent for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
My take: There have been a huge number of recent YA books tackling mental health, but there are also a huge number of people out there facing mental health issues. While opinions may vary on the "right" way to approach such a topic, I really liked the way that The Weight of Zero chose to tackle them.
Catherine's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and this diagnosis cost her a lot. Her best friends now shun her and the class bully seems to think she's fair game. So she keeps to herself, keeps her head down and tries to get through each day. Another way she copes is through a box in which she stockpiles meds. Catherine's not sure she can handle another depressive episode, so she wants to be prepared to end it all.
Yes, that sounds really dark, but the book is so much more than that. Catherine has a mom, a single mom who is fighting tooth and nail to help her daughter. I LOVED that the book a) portrayed a deeply caring mom, and b) showed the effect that Catherine's illness has had on her mom, and c) revealed that Catherine knows how much her mom has suffered along with her and is wracked with guilt about it.
Catherine is in treatment, which was another thing I loved about the book -- it didn't treat bipolar disorder like a personality quirk, but showed the hard work, obstacles, and tireless commitment to self-care that treatment entails. Catherine takes meds, has a wonderful, caring therapist and goes to an outpatient support group for teens.
Then there's Michael. He's a guy who befriends Catherine. At first, she's 100% wary of him, based on her bad experiences with her former friends, but slowly he wins her over. I loved the slow pace of the relationship and the bumps the couple faced. She's not his MPDG (thank goodness) and he's not her knight in shining armor.
This book is about Catherine's struggle to cope with the world, with her own issues and fears, with her sense that she will never be able to be happy or "normal," whatever that means. There's a subplot about a school project that inspires Catherine to research another woman with struggles, a black woman soldier during World War II. For me, this subplot (though fascinating) took the book a little bit off course, into issues of racism and sexism that felt a little peripheral to the story.
I highly recommend The Weight of Zero. It is a bit reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower - and Catherine even references that book as a favorite, which was fun. If PoBaW is a favorite of yours, definitely try this one out!
Read more of my reviews on YA Roma