Saturday, April 30, 2016

My April Reads, The Weight of Zero, and Waiting for Mania

In April, I finished 9 books:

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
New Millenium Writings 2011 by Don Williams ed.
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Structuring Your Novel Workbook by K.M. Weiland
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I posted a review of The Weight of Zero on Goodreads (If you already saw that review, keep reading. I have added more thoughts below):

Honesty time: I was very reluctant to read this book.

Let me explain why, and why I ended up loving it.

I went to see Sara Megibow give a talk to members of SCBWI. (The talk was great, but that’s not the point.) At the end of her talk, Sara gave away a pile of books. I ended up with an advanced reader’s copy of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO. The back cover copy describes a story of a girl who is dealing (poorly) with bipolar disorder. Possibly interesting, I thought. The book went into my massive “to be read” pile.

A few weeks later I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest post looking at successful queries. This one was Sara Megibow talking about the query letter she received from Karen Fortunati. Something in the way Sara described the book made me pause. This was starting to sound like a book that had an agenda. My experience with books that have an agenda is that the story is usually lacking. Maybe I wasn’t interested in reading this book, after all.

THE WEIGHT OF ZERO made its way to the top of my pile. I opened the book to find a letter from the editor at Delacorte Press. She talked about the importance of this book, both to her personally, and the world as a whole. She laid out the message of the book in black and white. Oh boy. Definitely a book with an agenda.

I started reading. And I kept reading. I read about half of the book in one sitting. Yes, this is a book with an agenda. More importantly, it is a great, well-told STORY.

Catherine knows that she has bipolar disorder. She has experienced both the crippling depression (she has named it Zero) and the euphoria and boundless energy of mania. She has tried to commit suicide while in the grasp of Zero before, and has a clear plan to succeed the next time Zero grabs her and crushes her under its weight. But she has one thing she wants to do before she dies. One thing. It’s a thing that would be on the bucket list of many teenagers if they made one.

Catherine goes after this one thing, the only thing she thinks she wants to do before she dies. Along the way she begins to accumulate other things. Things that are given to her that she didn’t know she wanted, things she didn’t know she needed.

Yes, there is a message to this story, an agenda. Hope is sneaky. Even when you refuse to acknowledge it, it can find a way in. Also this- you are not your disease. And this- you can live.

And I loved it. This is just a great story of a girl on mission. It just so happens that she is dragging THE WEIGHT OF ZERO on that mission with her.

Here’s the part I didn’t share on Goodreads. This is the personal stuff.

I’m familiar with Zero. I have felt his weight. He has sprawled on me in the middle of the night, on the brightest of sunny days. He has convinced me to make a plan. Not once, but twice. Once I followed through on my plan. Luckily, I was too young to know what I needed to know to succeed.

My visits from Zero were largely prompted by medical issues. As a teenager, I was told I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was twenty. Dead by the time I turned thirty. Couple that prognosis with extraordinary pain and it’s easy to see how Zero found me that time. His second visit occurred just after I had my second child. Swirling in post-partem hormones. Diagnosed with cancer. Circumstances opened the door and welcomed him in.

I made it through both of my battles with Zero. But I was waiting. Waiting for the rest.

My dad had bipolar disorder. So did his mother. It was possible that I carried that same genetic code. Most people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed before they turn thirty-four. I watched that birthday creep up on me. I waited for mania. With two major bouts of depression in my past, a single go-round with mania would probably be enough to give me the diagnosis I hoped to avoid.

Thirty-four happened several years ago. (Don’t ask how many. That’s not polite. :) ) Statistics tells me I should be in the clear. But I don’t trust statistics. Someone has to be in the 1%.

Now I don’t watch just me. I watch my kids. I watch the ADHD and impulsive behaviors. Studies have suggested a genetic link between ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It’s possible that I may have passed the genetic code onto my kids without expressing those genes myself.

So I watch. And I wait. I’m ready. For Zero and whatever friends he brings to play.

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