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The Weight of Zero

Cover of The Weight of Zero

The Weight of Zero

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For fans of 13 Reasons Why and Girl in Pieces, this is a novel that shows the path to hope and life for a girl with mental illness.
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.
For fans of 13 Reasons Why and Girl in Pieces, this is a novel that shows the path to hope and life for a girl with mental illness.
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1

    I line the bottles up on my night table. Each amber-colored warrior bears my name and its own rank and serial number: CATHERINE PULASKI—CELEXA 40 mg, CATHERINE PULASKI—PROZAC 20 mg, CATHERINE PULASKI—ABILIFY 10 mg, PAXIL, ZOLOFT and LEXAPRO—my stockpile of old prescriptions. By day, they're stationed in a box under my bed, camouflaged under old ballet shoes, unopened packages of tights and crumpled recital flyers. But every night, I take them out. They soothe me. My psycho-tropic soldiers give me hope. There is strength in numbers.

    My mother's bedroom door squeaks, and for the third time tonight, soft footsteps pad their way to me. There's no lock on my door; it was gone when I came home from the hospital last year. Fighting the usual Mom-induced frustration, I move quickly, stashing the bottles.

    Light from the hallway spills into my room as Mom enters. "Sorry, Cath, forgot to get your number." She bends to kiss me. Before, she'd stroke the long hair off my face to find my forehead. Now, with most of my hair MIA, Mom pats my shorn head like she would a sick dog. "Well?" she asks.

    "Um . . . six, maybe six and a half," I lie. Our numerical mood-report system dates back to about two years ago, right around the time I turned fifteen. The truth: I'm closer to five. Maybe even four. And I'm scared. I think I can feel Zero's black breath on my neck. Again. But I can't tell her that now.

    Mom sits on the side of my bed, pulling the white down comforter tight across my chest. "So it's about the same, right? No change?"

    "Yeah."

    "Okay. No big changes. That's good." Mom says this more for herself than for me. "So on Monday, I'll pick you up right after school. I can leave work early."

    "Mom," I say with a sigh. "That's the eighth time you've told me. I got it." Her instant smile hurts too much, so I roll to face the wall.

    Mom has lassoed her hopes on Monday's appointment for my miraculous recovery from bipolar disorder. The site of the future miracle is named, appropriately, St. Anne's Hospital, which has just opened a shiny new adolescent outpatient facility right here in Cranbury, Connecticut. On the recommendation of my shrink du jour, I will be heading to St. Anne's for three hours after school, five days a week, for the foreseeable future. I haven't told him about Zero, but since I've skipped a few classes, he's upped the dosage of my new med in addition to this intensive out-patient program at St. Anne's.

    "Sorry, Cath." Mom rubs my back. Even though I'm annoyed with her, it feels wonderful, comforting, and I almost purr, my skin soaking up the contact like a parched plant takes in water. "I know we've gone over it already," she continues. "I'm so tired I don't know what I'm saying. The restaurant was packed tonight." Even her voice sounds fried. "I don't know how much longer I'll be doing this. Two jobs in one day."

    We both know she'll keep doing this Friday double to pay for my doctors, therapy, meds, donations to the shrine of St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes) and whatever else my mental defect demands.

    "You should get some sleep," I say, shifting slightly in her direction. She rises and hunches over me. Her face is in the shadows, and bony shoulders poke out of her sleeveless pajama top. She could be eighty years old.

    Mom tucks in the bottom corners of the comforter too hard. My toes curl forward under the pressure. "Okay, baby. Wake me up if you need anything. I love you." She clicks off my bedside lamp like I'm three.

    I wait a...

About the Author-
  • Karen Fortunati is a former attorney who attends graduate school at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and works part-time as a museum educator. She lives in Connecticut with her family and rescue dogs.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 5, 2016
    Debut novelist Fortunati tackles social stigma and mental health realistically and honestly through the candid voice of Catherine Pulaski, a 17-year-old with bipolar disorder. Cath knows that Zero (“mania’s flip side”) will come for her—it always does—but she has a plan. She has been stockpiling and hiding pills so that when the debilitating depression of Zero finally returns, this suicide attempt will be successful, unlike her last one. Before that eventuality, Cath has a bucket list, one that includes losing her virginity and maybe finding a real friend. Cath is required to take part in group therapy after school, and although she initially resists it, she finds a few kindred spirits there; a blossoming romance with a classmate, Michael, also helps provide a sense of normalcy. Fearful of the stigma associated with bipolarity, Cath lies about her diagnosis to her new friends, which leads to complications. Fortunati doesn’t shy away from detailing Cath’s despair but is very clear that with treatment, there is hope. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary.

  • Kirkus Reviews "An honest, informative, and ultimately optimistic novel about living with mental illness."
  • Publishers Weekly "Fortunati tackles social stigma and mental health realistically and honestly."
  • Clarissa Murphy, Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA) "You might think that a story about having bipolar disorder would be depressing. But this story will lift you up, open your eyes, and make even your darkest 'Zero' moments seem manageable. Everyone should read this book. It will help you face those bad times, and it will help you appreciate the good times."
  • Kathy Taber, Kids Ink Children's Bookstore (Indianapolis, IN)
    "A real story that needs to be told about bipolar disorder and how it affects someone who is afflicted by this, The Weight of Zero also concentrates on the value of good doctoring, strong support from family and friends, and the will to continue living."
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    Random House Children's Books
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The Weight of Zero
Karen Fortunati
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