4791265335 6aff03c9d3 CatalystBuy Catalyst
Special $6.99 (Regular price: $7.99)
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Reviewer: Melissa on July 14, 2010
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Have you ever been so stressed about something that you couldn’t sleep? Perhaps you spent your nights doing homework or housework or maybe you just found yourself tossing and turning all night long. I don’t know about you, but I certainly have and so has Kate Malone, the protagonist of Laurie Halse Anderson‘s 2002 release, Catalyst. For Kate, a high school senior, stress comes from the fact that the deadline to receive a university acceptance letter is fast approaching and she still hasn’t heard from her top choice: MIT. Gulp. While not getting into her top school shouldn’t be a big deal since she told everyone that she was accepted by her safety schools, Kate has a secret: MIT was the only school to which she applied. Double gulp. Add all this to a local house fire, which forces Kate to share her room with her long time enemy, Teri Litch, and Teri’s two-year-old brother, and you’ll have a full understanding of the main character’s situation.

After having read and loved Anderson’s debut novel Speak, I’d always intended to read more of her YA novels when I had the chance. However, my interest was peeked when I learned that Melinda Sordino the protagonist of that novel makes a cameo appearance in Catalyst. Even without knowing the premise, I knew that I had to read it, and I’m so thrilled that I did. In Kate, Anderson has created a character, who is unlike any that I’ve ever read before: a contemporary, overachieving girl, who excels in chemistry and has almost everything necessary to get into best science institution in the United States. Had the author stopped there, this novel might have been lacking that “oomph” that makes a good book a great one. If she’d stopped there, Kate would have been so wrapped up in achieving that she wouldn’t have changed and grown as a person. Lucky for us, Laurie Halse Anderson seems unable to do nothing less than be as much of an overachieving author as her character is an overachieving student.

While Speak was dark with poetic metaphor and ironic humor, Catalyst is an extended metaphor of literature as scientific experimentation. Each book heading is named after one of the states of matter and has a quotation from ARCO Everything You Need to Score High On AP Chemistry. While each of these quotations literally refer to a scientific principle, they have larger significance for the content of the novel at the point in question. (Would you expect anything less from Laurie Halse Anderson.) Beyond these aspects of the novel, you will also find that the entire structure from the chapter titles to Kate’s obsessive list making furthers the metaphor and ensures that the novel’s form matches the function of getting into Kate’s head. From where I stand, it’s impossible to argue that the author’s scientific hypothesis was anything but 100% correct: this novel is a success.

While Catalyst is a beautiful novel, it is also heartbreaking. It’s one of the few novels that really made me cry so far this year. Moreover, as I was reading it, I found myself thinking, “How do people keep going when tragedy strikes?” Anderson’s answer to this question is that the existing bonds people have with one another develop and deepen, just like the covalent bonds that hold the individual atoms together. Reading this book might take you to uncomfortable places, but it is well worth the journey.

Buy Catalyst today!

  10 comments for “Catalyst

  1. R.J. Anderson
    July 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

    I don’t normally cry over books, but when I read CATALYST I had to put the book down and sob and sob and sob. Devastating and brilliant. Definitely my favorite of all Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novels to date (though I’ve enjoyed them all).

  2. July 14, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I completely agree with you R.J. I could put myself in the place of Kate and Teri, and though it was a couple of weeks ago, thinking about it now…wow. It really sticks with you. Catalyst was the novel that caused my bf to say that if I keep getting so upset by the contemporary YA / issue novels, I shouldn’t read them. The truth is though that though it’s upsetting, it makes you more human I think.

  3. Amy
    July 14, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I just read Speak and ordered Catalyst for the exact same reason! I can’t wait for it to get here (hopefully) today.

  4. July 14, 2010 at 9:54 am

    They’re very different novels, but both are so good. Let me know what you think about Catalyst when you have a chance to read it. (Crossing my fingers that you get it today!)

  5. September 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    WOW! I can see why this is your favorite. Your reviews are amazing – always so thoughtful and analytical. I love how you explain the novel as a “hypothesis.” This actually sounds like a main character I could really relate to. I will definitely be picking this one up. Thank you so much for such a brilliant review!

  6. September 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for such a glowing comment about my reviews in general and of this one about Catalyst in particular, Casey! Kate was definitely one of the characters that I’ve been most able to relate to since I started my site, even though my strongest classes were English and art in high school. Hope you enjoy the book!

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