Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Catalyst
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: January 28th 2002
Pages: 232
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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Meet Kate Malone - straight A science and math geek, minister's daughter, ace long-distance runner, girlfriend, unwilling family caretaker, 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, like a string of chemical reactions, everything happens: the Malones' neighbors get burned out of their home and move in. Because her father is a Good Man of God (and a Not Very Thoughtful Parent), Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri's adorable, troublemaking little brother. And through it all, she's still waiting to hear from the only college she has applied to: MIT. Kate's life is less and less under control-and then, something happens that blows it all apart, and forces her to examine her life, self, and heart for the first time.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Everyone (me included) has read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Wintergirls, but I never seem to hear much about her other novels. Reading Catalyst has shown me that I need to get around to reading all of her books, though - this one is just as great as her most famous novels!

I do understand why something like Wintergirls would get more attention - it's easier to buzz about "that great anorexia book" than about Catalyst, a book without such a set topic. But I for one loved the subtlety of Catalyst, liked watching the story unfold without knowing where it's going. It's not quite as obviously an Issue Book as Speak and Wintergirls, while still addressing some very important issues, which I really appreciated.

You all already know Laurie Halse Anderson can write, but I can't write this review without mentioning her writing. Her writing is simply amazing. Catalyst has some of the stark, raw feeling of Speak and Wintergirls, but it also has a lighter side - it's closer to everyday life, especially in the first half. I enjoyed this balance because it had me absorbed in Kate's story but also made me think about the greater meaning of it all.

Speaking of Kate, she's a great main character. I found her likable and easy to relate to. She's kind of in-the-middle character, not too extreme in any way, which could have made for a boring narrator. But to me, Kate is anything but boring - these qualities just made her feel like a very real character; not a cliche with a larger-than-life personality but a real person. I also really liked the chemistry-geek stuff - we usually get to read about the girl who's into artsy things, so it's nice to have an MC with some different interests.

The secondary characters are good, too, especially Teri - she's such an intriguing character! And her little brother Mikey is adorable. I thought Kate's friends' characters could have been a little more complex, but I didn't really mind their one-dimensionality (is that a word?) because it's not their story. Also, Melinda from Speak appears in Catalyst, and it's nice to see what's going on with her a year after Speak.

The only thing I didn't like is how little we get to know about the characters' pasts. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson's sparse style for the most part, but I would have liked to see some more development of the characters' pasts and backgrounds. For example, why did Kate not apply to any schools other than MIT? She admits that that was a mistake, but I'd like to know what she was thinking at the time. And there's some stuff in Teri's past that could have used a lot more development; what she's been through is never properly addressed, which I found very disappointing.

But other than that, Catalyst is a great book. It perfectly balances the Issue Book aspect with simply telling a story, making it equal parts entertaining and powerful. If this is any indication of the rest of Laurie Halse Anderson's work, I recommending giving some of her lesser-known novels a try.


  1. Shame on me. I have not read any of Laurie Halse Anderson's works yet. I obviously need to. I love the cover for CATALYST.

  2. Sadly, I haven't read any of Laurie Halse Anderson's books though I've heard amazing things about her and Speak is at the top of my wishlist. Catalyst sounds interesting and I like that the main character seems real.

  3. This isn't one of my favorites by her, although I did really like it, a lot. I agree that Speak and Wintergirls are amazing, but have you read Twisted yet? It's a male narrator, and it's quite possibly my favorite of all her novels.

    1. I haven't read Twisted yet, but I really want to - so many people have told me it's their favorite of her novels! :)


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