Book Review: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Catalyst

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Number of Pages: 233

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating: C+

Recommended: No

Getting an appearance from Melinda from Speak was the best part of this underwhelming YA novel. High school senior Kate Malone has her heart set on only one thing; getting into MIT upon graduation. She is so obsessed with achieving her goal and so confident in her own abilities that she decides not to apply to any other colleges, and when she is rejected she feels as if her life is over and crashes into a deep depression. Kate’s dad is a preacher and her brother Toby seems like a pretty typical teenage boy, with masturbation being one of his principal hobbies.


Kate’s mother is dead and she begrudgingly keeps her family from falling apart, but everything changes for the whole Malone family when the neighbors’ house burns down and Kate’s classmate Teri Litch and her little brother Mikey temporarily move in. Teri has bullied Kate since elementary school and is angry and violent, with an all-around nasty attitude. Understandably, Kate doesn’t want Teri living with her and her family, but her dad makes it clear that she doesn’t have much say in the matter. The situation hits breaking point when tragedy strikes and Kate and Terri’s lives are drastically altered.


This isn’t normally a book that I would choose to pick up, because there’s nothing about the premise that would really grab my interest. I checked Catalyst up from the library because I really liked Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson’s first novel. However, I found this book to be lacking for several reasons, namely the relatively one-dimensional characters and the considerable lack of character growth on the parts of both Teri and Katie.  I felt like Kate simply became more permissive of Teri’s behavior by the end because of how much Teri had been through, rather than either of them experiencing a marked change in their attitudes towards the situation or each other.


I also had a lot of trouble connecting to Kate. For someone who took on so much personal responsibility for her family’s well-being, she seemed very self-centered and uncaring. Even after witnessing a tragic, life-destroying accident, getting into MIT seems to be her primary concern. Her relative sense of apathy towards everyone around her and her overall attitude of superiority and entitlement made her a really hard character for me to like or relate to.


Melinda Sordino, the protagonist of Speak, was a flawed character but I still found myself liking her and rooting for her. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Kate Malone. I kept hoping that she would grow on me at some point during the book but she never did. Catalyst was a fairly easy read and I don’t regret finishing it. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours and Laurie Halse Anderson is a pretty good writer, even if the book itself wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m still interested in reading some of her other work, but this novel failed to wow me, and the science-based metaphors that were forced into the narrative didn’t help. Better luck next time.


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