Thursday, November 04, 2010

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Catalyst is a young adult novel by author Laurie Halse Anderson, the the talented lady behind Wintergirls, Chains, Twisted and Speak. It takes place in the same community as Speak, and in fact the main character actually runs into Melinda at one point in the novel, but that is where the similarities end. Catalyst is the story of Kate Malone, a girl who's favourite subjects are chemistry and math and who would love more than anything to go to MIT. She'd love it so much, it's actually the only school she applied to. While Kate waits for her application results her life continues to get more complicated when a fire puts her enemy Teri and Teri's little brother out of a home and Kate's father, the local pastor, offers to let them move in. The result has consequences that nobody ever could have imagined.

I think Anderson is an extremely talented young adult author, she does an expert job of capturing unique and realistic teen voices, as well as having an understanding of very important teen issues. However it seems that she is strongest is when her books deal with harsher issues, like rape in Speak and eating disorders in Wintergirls, as opposed to the normal quest to belong as in Twisted or the stress of applying to college which concerns Kate in Catalyst. That's because Anderson's storytelling has a natural drama to it, and when she is addressing less severe issues it often comes across as unnecessary. In order to achieve this melodrama, Anderson sometimes has her characters do things which don't feel realistic, for example having Kate only apply to one school. Not only that, but Kate lies to her father and friends about it, going so far as to have her dad write application cheques for her safety schools. Considering Kate is the kind of person who does laundry for her family since her mother passed away, lying to everyone like that didn't seem to fit her character. And although Kate certainly has a good chance of getting into MIT, I doubt even a smart student would only apply to one extremely prestigious school.

However, my major problem with Catalyst is the use of quotes from a guide to AP chemistry and the forced and often odd chapter titles which link the book to chemistry metaphors. As somebody who is doing their masters in science at the moment, the connection often seemed not only forced but silly and gimmicky. Although I can appreciate what she was trying to do, strengthen the connection to Kate's science love, I didn't think it worked as most of the time the connections were shaky at best and the chapter divisions were just confusing. Another heavy-handed metaphor Anderson uses is the idea of running as symbolism for Kate trying to run away from her problems- get it? As good a job as Anderson does of describing the freedom Kate gets from running at night, after about the fourth time this happens I didn't really care anymore.

I actually found Teri to be an extremely interesting character and I was really engaged in her portion of the storyline. Teri has to deal with bullying and a not so happy home life, and she is both strong but not necessarily good, as she steals from Kate, which is an interesting conflict. I think if the book had been told from Teri's point of view instead I might have found it a lot more positive. In the end Catalyst had a lot of the same problems I found in Twisted- where the book wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly considering the stress that had been placed on certain issues throughout the novel. Overall Catalyst was an okay book, but it certainly isn't Anderson's best and I'd pass on this one unless you are a true lover of her writing and stick to Wintergirls, Speak and Chains if you aren't. **

Number of Pages: 232 pages
Published: September 2002
Source: Public Library

1 comment:

  1. I was in the midst of reading "Speak" for my Banned Books Challenge when one of my daughters "borrowed" it from me. From what I got a CHANCE to read, it seems like a very well-written book. I would agree with you that melodrama doesn't necessarily belong in the everyday teen world. Thanks for the review!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries


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