Let’s Talk Books — Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Warning: Spoilers!

I’ve only read two other books by Laurie Halse Anderson. My first was The Impossible Knife of Memory, which I read about a year ago. My second was Speak, which I read last summer and wrote a review on. I enjoyed both, and while I often get frustrated with YA books, I feel like both were pretty solid experiences even as an adult reading them for the first time. From what I’ve read by her, Laurie Halse Anderson has definitely been one of the better YA authors I’ve come across.

So I can’t help but be a little disappointed by Catalyst. It wasn’t bad, it was just… okay. It was about a high school senior named Kate, who’s anxiously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT. She’s a little uptight because she hasn’t heard anything in a long time, and it was the only school she even applied to so she feels like her future is nonexistent if she doesn’t get accepted. She runs as a means of escape for her everyday anxiety, which also includes a sick brother and slightly forgetful father she needs to take care of.

Things get more tense for Kate when her neighbor’s house burns down, and she and her brother are invited by Kate’s father to live with them until their housing situation is fixed. Her neighbor, Teri, is a combination of social outcast and bully while her brother, Mikey, is both adorable in the way most little kids are and gross in the way most little kids are. It doesn’t help that Teri is selfish, intrusive, and a theif. She steals a number of Kate’s belongings during her stay and is rude to boot.

And on top of all this, things are starting to fall apart for Kate’s relationship with her boyfriend for many of the same reasons high school senior couples start to fall apart. So needless to say, she’s pretty stressed.

The book as a whole feels like it wants to deal with Kate’s anxiety, but it feels more like it’s about Kate getting to know Teri. Her situation with MIT, with her family, with her boyfriend — they all feel like subplots that unfortunately don’t feel like they go anywhere. The stuff with Teri is interesting, at least. But still, I can’t help but be bothered that so many other subplots were started and never really explored as much as I was led to believe they would be.

We see that despite how obnoxious Teri is, she has a soft spot for her brother and takes care of him the way her own mother should. Her own mother is pretty out of it; I’m not sure what her story is, but she stays with someone else while Teri and Mikey stay with Kate.

I’ll admit I’m not really sure why Teri and Mikey don’t stay where their mother’s staying, as well. This kind of bugged me. Like, I get the whole setup of the book is to put Kate and Teri together in close quarters. But realistically, I’m not sure why Teri would even choose to stay with Kate in the first place. Why wouldn’t she go with her mother? Or anywhere else she might normally go on her own? I suppose you could argue Mikey’s not better off staying with her mother so he may as well stick with Teri, but in that case why don’t the three of them just stick together? Maybe she felt Kate’s home would be a better place for Mikey to stay? But in that case, why don’t all three of them stay?

Whatever the case, Teri eventually opens up a little about her family situation. At first it’s pretty standard YA broken family stuff: abusive father, broken mother, child who feels they need to pick up the pieces and carry the remainder of the family, that sort of thing. But then we find out that Teri was raped by her father before being sent to prison, and things begin to make more sense. I thought it was odd how Teri, a senior, had a two year old brother. But after revealing this fact, we can put together that Mikey is actually her son.

Well, I thought we could piece it together, anyway. The book flat out confirms this later on, and I wish it hadn’t. Her relationship with Mikey was subtle enough to feel like it was rewarding to put two and two together, but when the book tells us it feels less satisfying.

Teri has temporary character development. Kate’s dad organizes for the community to help repair the house, and Teri takes control. She’s actually really good at organizing everything, and she knows stuff about tools and construction, so it feels like her life is heading for a better direction. Things are good for a while before an accident takes Mikey’s life. Then Teri loses her shit.

The rest of the book is basically Kate trying to manage her subplots and trying to calm Teri down. Like I said before, it really feels more like the Teri show rather than a book about Kate. Like a snippet of things that happened during Kate’s senior year rather than a novel with a clear obstacle for the main character to overcome. The only thing I can really remember about the ending is that Teri and Kate are on the road to becoming friends but… eh. The buildup to it sort of felt like a mix between rushed and unfinished.

Catalyst wasn’t a bad book, and I’d still recommend it for a YA read. But it didn’t leave the same impact on me that The Impossible Knife of Memory and Speak left on me. It was okay, it was a fast read, it helped pass the time, but… unfortunately, that was kind of it. 😦

Thanks for reading! Hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

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Info for my edition of Catalyst:

  • Published 2003 by Speak
  • Paperback, 232 pages
  • ISBN 0-14-240001-7