Review: Catalyst

Review: CatalystCatalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Speak on September 15, 2003
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 232
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

Meet Kate Malone-straight-A science and math geek, minister's daughter, ace long-distance runner, new girlfriend (to Mitchell "Early Decision Harvard" Pangborn III), unwilling family caretaker, and emotional avoidance champion. Kate manages her life by organizing it as logically as the periodic table. She can handle it all-or so she thinks. Then, things change as suddenly as a string of chemical reactions; first, the Malones' neighbors get burned out of their own home and move in. Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri's little brother. The days are ticking down and she's still waiting to hear from the only college she applied to: MIT. Kate feels that her life is spinning out of her control-and then, something happens that truly blows it all apart. Set in the same community as the remarkableSpeak,ย Catalystย is a novel that will change the way you look at the world.

After my last read, not to be confused with my last review, I needed something powerful and beautiful and character-driven. Catalyst turned out to be a perfect choice. Until now, my experience with Laurie Halse Anderson consisted solely of Speak. At that time, I didn’t really read much realistic fiction, and I mostly steered away from unhappy books. As such, I really was not sure what to make of it, and could not appreciate it as much as I know I could now. Having read and super liked Catalyst, I’m pretty sure I need to reread Speak soon.

Speaking of Speak (which is published by Speak), Catalyst actually takes place in the very same high school, and Melinda makes a brief appearance. The Melinda here seems pretty happy and is still doing her art. Yay! Of course, she was only in for a page, but, hey, it was nice to see her and to get the sense that she’s actually recovered. I really love when authors reference previous works.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing makes me want to spin around Julie Andrews style because of how freaking wonderful it is. Seriously, if I had to quantify my favorite writing style, it would be one that is dark, funny, and dripping with wit. Her writing here fits in perfectly with John Green’s and A.S. King’s, in the category of writing so good that it kind of makes me never want to write anything, since I can never be that good at putting things into words.

Of course, Anderson does not merely excel at writing. She backs it up with characterization. Kate Malone bursts with personality. She has both teenage hubris and insecurity in spades. Her voice is powerful and acerbic. A pastor’s daughter, she has developed a dichotomy within herself of how she’s supposed to act and all the things she wants to say: Good Kate and Bad Kate. While this technique can be awful when done wrong, Anderson used it effectively. It just fit Kate and her rigorous need to be perfect warring with her judgmental personality.

Kate loves math and science, dreams of attending MIT, her late mother’s alma mater. She’s done everything she can: earned the grades, taken the tests, filled her life with extracurriculars, excelled at a sport, volunteered at her father’s church, and worked part-time at a pharmacy. She’s a shoe-in, right? Well, she told herself that anyway when she decided to apply only to MIT and nowhere else…even when she wasn’t accepted early decision.

With the letter, hopefully the fat one, from MIT due any day, Kate cannot sleep, spending most of every night running or performing household chores. The own stresses in her life are put into perspective by a larger tragedy that forces her into a relationship with her childhood tormenter, Teri Litch. The main detractor in the novel was that I felt like Kate forgave Teri much too easily and let her get away with too much. The whole time I kept yelling at her to get the watch and necklace (both with sentimental value) Teri stole from her back.

Another wonderful thing about this book: the romance. Unlike most YA, it’s not about Kate’s relationship, nor does it include a new love interest. She already has a boy, Mitchell, her former rival, who she argues with a lot less now that they spend quite a bit of time kissing. Also setting this book apart, Mitchell is not the kind of guy most girls would find attractive, but Kate still thinks he’s hot, which was so cute and refreshing. Their relationship definitely reads like one that will not last long once they go to college, and it was so much more authentic than all of these soulmates confessing their love on a first date.

While I do think some of the plotting elements were a bit rushed, I loved this book for the characterization, the writing and for completely surprising me. Seriously, there was a twist I did not see coming at all. Anyway, Anderson is brilliant, in case you didn’t know that already.

Favorite Quote:

“One girl I recognize. She’s half-famous around here: Melinda Something. A Senior tried to rape her in a janitor’s closet last year. She fought him off and pressed charges, which was cool. It made the papers when he was found guilty. He didn’t go to jail, of course. White, upper-middle-class criminals go to the state college, not the state penitentiary. Then they join fraternities.”

8 responses to “Review: Catalyst”

  1. I hadn’t heard of this one. I love, love, love Anderson so much. And I freely admit to fangirling a bit when she replied to a little tweet that I sent to her not long ago. I squealed out loud in the middle of my house in front of people. Not ashamed one bit. Bahaha…

    I will have to pick this book up. It sounds like something I’d enjoy. You wrote a great review. Have you read her title “Wintergirls”? It’s my favorite of her works so far. I think I’ve reread it in the last couple years about three times already. I’m probably one of the rare ones that was never a huge fan of Speak, though I really loved the writing style itself. I think it was largely in part I read it at the wrong time, too. And maybe because I’d seen the movie way too many times before I’d heard about the book and author (unfortunately, huh?).

    Anyways, love the way this sounds. And a twist that’s hard to guess? Sweeeet. ๐Ÿ˜‰ She is brilliant. I agree. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great review! ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Christina says:

    Wow, well, I’m glad I could drop awareness on you, since it would be sad for you to miss out on some of Laurie Halse Anderson’s amazingness. I would totally flip out over that tweet. Established authors usually won’t tweet back. ๐Ÿ™ I exchanged a couple of tweets with Jennifer Lynn Barnes and I was over the moon.

    You should definitely read this! Part of the issue with Speak could be that I didn’t find Melinda as engaging a heroine as I did Kate. I read a lot for character. Then again, her character was probably what she needed to be, so who knows.


  3. I have never heard of this one! I loved Anderson’s writing in Speak, I think that is definitely the novel that got me addicted to the punch in the gut feel that I love so much. So cool that Melinda shows up in this one! I love when characters overlap but it’s not a series. I also really want to read this one now because of what you had to say about the romance, so great that it’s not a traditional YA yucky one.

    I have Wintergirls on my shelf and haven’t had the time to pick it up yet, but with Katie having read that and now this review I think it’s time for me to get some Laurie Halse Anderson back in my life!

    • Christina says:

      Oh, you definitely should get Laurie Halse Anderson back into your life. She punches you in the gut so beautifully. Punch me some more, Laurie!

      I have Wintergirls on my shelf too. Haha.

  4. Renae says:

    This is an author I definitely need to read, as a confessed realistic fiction junkie. And while I’d probably read one of her her more well-known novels as an introduction (Speak or Wintergirls, it’s nice to know that she’s consistently good. This definitely sounds like something I would enjoyโ€”anything that comes advertised as having strong characterization is something I need to check out.

  5. I really need to read Catalyst. I’ve only ever read Speak, but I did enjoy it and felt that it was well-written.

    Also? I like that this book isn’t about the relationship — that it’s already there. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good swoon, but sometimes it is nice to switch it up a little.

    • Christina says:

      Yes, you so do!

      Me too. As much as I love the swoony butterflies in book form, there’s something nice about some established relationships. Also, there’s still some good kissing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge