I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Published by Delacorte Press on October 11, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, contemporary, mental illness, Social Issues
Format: Print, Print ARC
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Cath knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles meds, preparing to take her own life when Zero next arrives.
But Zero’s return is delayed. Unexpected relationships along with the care of a new psychiatrist start to alter Catherine's perception of her diagnosis. But will this be enough? This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.
The manuscript was awarded the 2014 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in the Contemporary YA category, named a finalist in the 2015 Tassey-Walden Awards and won the Serendipity Literary Agency 2013 YA First Page/Novel Discovery Contest.
Inside the Author’s Head
Welcome to the blog! I have to tell you, the day I read the synopsis for this book, I almost cried. (Sending hug.) The impact of the blurb alone was enough for me to know I had to have this story inside my heart as soon as I could.
Thank you so much!! I’m really excited for you to read it!
Can you first tell readers where the idea came from for it? What kind of research did you have to do to prepare yourself to write it?
My main character, seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski, pretty much appeared in my head during a writing retreat. I’d been playing around with the idea of writing a young adult novel (I had only worked on a middle-grade novel up to that point) and suddenly Catherine was there, contemplating suicide. I had an immediate understanding of her journey and where she was going to be at the end of it. I wrote the first page in about twenty minutes. The writing and the character felt very familiar to me and it inspired me to keep going.
Looking back, writing a story about mental illness was a natural thing for me. My husband is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and many people close to me have experienced a wide variety of mental health issues and treatment. I’ve also known two people who have committed suicide and saw its devastation on one of the mothers in particular. All of these moments have really shaped me and I thought often of this mom, her pain and guilt and loss, while I was writing about Catherine’s mother.
To write this story, I had to do a ton of research. I don’t have bipolar disorder so I felt a staggering amount of responsibility to try and get it right knowing that there is a wide range in symptoms. I read Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and scoured the Internet for blogs and personal accounts. The International Bipolar Foundation was really helpful and of course, my husband was amazing in helping me understand what Catherine might be feeling and her course of treatment.
Two of our favorite subcategories to review on Such a Novel Idea are tough issues and LGBTQ. Your book clearly makes it into the first category. What are the biggest challenges you have faced writing such an emotional story? Why is writing about the tough issues teens are facing important to you?
The Weight of Zero is about a girl with bipolar disorder and a suicide plan and many other mental illnesses are discussed in this book: eating disorders, cutting and addiction among others. Authenticity and respect were crucial to the story’s credibility. My greatest fear was not getting these experiences right. Reading and listening to personal accounts helped me enormously. That was easily the greatest challenge and worry for me.
I think I was moved to write this story because first and foremost, I am the mother of two teenagers. I often compare my teen years with theirs and shudder at the stress they face now. I’m also a very anxious mom and if there’s something to worry about, I’m on it. (I’m pretty much the role model for Catherine’s mom in the book.) A few of the story’s themes are wishes for my kids: to not keep their problems in, to find someone they can trust and talk to, to understand that everything in life passes in some way, including the bad times, and that they find healthy ways to handle the pain in their lives.
What message do you want readers to take away from this book?
My wishes for my readers are the same as the wishes for my own kids. See above paragraph!
How did your studies and experiences in life help shape who you are as a writer?
I love this question! I already mentioned my experiences with mental illness and my husband’s impact on the story so I’d like to talk a little about how my studies impacted me as a writer.
I used to practice law and then tried to become a history teacher but I wasn’t accepted into my state’s alternate route to certification program. It was a huge bummer with a silver lining: I took up writing. Four years and a ridiculous amount of rejections later, I had nothing to show except a bruised ego. It hit me hard then that this writing thing probably would not work out for me. One thing I did know was that I loved history and that working in a museum would be the next best thing to writing about it. I was fortunate and enrolled in graduate school in Trinity College for a degree in American Studies. It changed everything. My writing improved tremendously but more importantly, I got my confidence back due to some extraordinary professors. I think the best thing for me then was taking a step back from writing and taking that pressure off myself. When I returned to writing, I felt more free than I ever had before.
Okay, so I always like to see what authors read. What are your top five favorite books and why?
I have to divide this into two categories. The first is a list of my favorite 2016 YA Debuts:
- The Girl Who Fell By Shannon Parker
- Underwater By Marisa Reichhardt
- The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone
- Devil and The Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black
- The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
- Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
- Lies We Tell Ourselves by Kim Zarins
Adult Books that I love:
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel By Maria Semple
- The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
- 1776 by David McCullough
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- Anything by Liane Moriarty, Stephen King and Jonathon Tropper
Night owl or early bird? How does it help with your writing process?
Early bird for sure! I’m most alert and story-focused in the morning. When I’m in a writing groove, I’ll write for two or three hours, walk my dogs in the park and think about the story’s direction or particular scenes, sound out dialogue, and then return to my computer to add notes or revise or continue to draft for a few more hours. I do most of my reading at night.
If you could live in one ‘book world’ which one would it be and why?
And finally, what other projects, if any, are you working on?
I’m finishing up my second YA novel that deals with mental illness from the perspective of a sibling and will be starting my thesis soon for my master’s degree.
Thank you so much for stopping by Such a Novel Idea!
Thank you for having me!!
We at Such a Novel Idea pride ourselves on reviewing and promoting books with “tough issues”, especially those with mental illnesses. We are excited to spread the news about the book the publisher says “uses real methods recommended by the National Institute of Mental Health: correct medication, therapy, and group support.” We can’t wish for a better book to make it into the hands of teens across the world!
Buy your copy, out now at Amazon and other booksellers across the nation.