Milford author’s ‘The Weight of Zero’ offers a triumph over depression

Milford resident Karen Fortunati is celebrating the release of her first novel, “The Weight of Zero,” about a teen’s triumph over depression.

The Weight of Zero, published by Delacorte Press and on sale starting Oct. 11, follows 17-year-old Catherine Pulaski. Catherine knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of her bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling her to her first suicide attempt.

With Zero only temporarily restrained by medication, Catherine knows time is running out until the mania and depression come again, so she stockpiles medications in an old ballet-shoe box, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships, along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist, alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence.

The Weight of Zero is a story of loss, grief and hope and how the many shapes of love — maternal, romantic and platonic — affect a young woman’s struggle with mental illness, according to a press release about the book.

Fortunati is a former attorney. Her experiences on the job with children and teens and her personal experiences witnessing the impact of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide inspired her to write the story for those who struggle with mental illness. She wanted to let them know that they are not alone in navigating the shame, stigma and anxiety that often complicate the management of these chronic conditions.

Fortunati attends graduate school at Trinity College in Hartford, and works part-time as a museum educator.

The book is generating glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Catherine’s acerbically witty narrative voice is razor sharp and often raw, and the confessional tone of her present-tense narration makes clear how overwhelming her pain is…An honest, informative, and ultimately optimistic novel about living with mental illness.”

Clarissa Murphy of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., wrote, “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.”

After graduating from the University of Scranton with an accounting degree and then earning a law degree from Georgetown and then working as a lawyer for many years, Fortunati found herself growing interested and then fascinated with history, specifically the American Revolution.

“This fascination sparked the idea for a middle grade story, so between family, dogs and a return to school, I threw myself into writing,” she says on her website.

She said she wasn’t successful with the middle grade story, but another idea was brewing.

“About a girl who had to deal not only with the standard pressures and stress of high school but also a much heavier weight – a mental illness. The story would be about her struggle to come to terms with it. It became The Weight of Zero,” she says.

The book is targeted for teens and young adults.

There will be a launch party Oct. 15 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble in Milford, featuring a panel discussion and book signing.