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Cover image from goodreads.com

Meet Kate Malone–straight-A science and math geek, minister’s daughter, ace long-distance runner, new girlfriend (to Mitchell “Early Decision Harvard” Pangborn III), unwilling family caretaker, and 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, things happen like a string of chemical reactions: first, the Malones’ neighbors get burned out of their own home and move in. Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri’ls little brother. The days are ticking by and she’s still waiting to hear from the only college where she’s applied: MIT. Kate feels that her life is spinning out of control–and then, something occurs that truly blows it all apart. Set in the same community as the remarkable Speak, Catalyst is a novel that will change the way you look at the world.

(Story synopsis from cover of Penguin edition.)

This apparently seems to be the year where I work my way through Laurie Halse Anderson‘s novels. I had read The Impossible Knife of Memory last year, however, I seem to be reading Anderson’s other novels this year. Already this year I had read Speak and Twisted (read my review of those books here (Speak) and here (Twisted)), and now I’ve just finished reading Catalyst. I actually came across Catalyst as I was re-shelving classroom library books in my room the other day. I hadn’t heard much about Catalyst, so I wanted to read it to find out for myself what this story was about.

When Catalyst starts out, we are introduced to Kate Malone. Kate sees herself as split between the “Good Kate” and the “Bad Kate.” Kate is learning to navigate her lie as she balances the role of caretaker to her little brother and father, straight-A student, superior runner, and being the Reverend’s daughter. Kate’s biggest concern for the moment is hearing from her dream school, MIT. Previously, she was deferred by MIT and now she is waiting for the official letter that lets her know their final decision. Throughout her senior year, Kate has lied to those closest to her, saying that she HAD applied to other colleges, but in reality, she had only applied to MIT.

With everything that Kate has to manage and control, she’s beginning to lose sleep. Instead of sleeping, she stays up and runs. She runs for miles and when she comes back, she then takes care of everyone else in her family (her brother Toby and their father)…making sure their laundry is done and they have enough to eat.

However, things start to unravel for Kate. Before she knows it, the countdown to the letter from MIT is almost to an end, and Kate’s nemesis Teri Fitch and her younger brother Mikey are moving in with the Malones after their house catches fire. But Teri and Mikey’s situation is not quite as it seems, as Kate soon finds out. Despite Kate’s dislike and reluctance for Teri, she can’t help but love the adorable two-year-old, Mikey. Before Teri and Kate realize it, a tenuous bond begins to form…until a tragedy strikes that changes everything Kate thought she knew about Teri, and the world around her.

Laurie Halse Anderson once again takes us into the complex life of a teenager, and we see the choices that must be made. While Kate’s story is an important one for everyone to realize that the choices we make will affect us later on down the road, I would also have been interested to learn more about Teri’s story. Kate’s story, at times, did not have the emotional appeal that I’ve felt in Anderson’s other stories. While Catalyst could be considered a companion novel to Speak, there is very little overlap between the two novels. After how much I have enjoyed Anderson’s other novels so far, I was slightly disappointed with Catalyst, however I am still looking forward to continuing to read books by Anderson.

Be sure to check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s full list of books on her website.