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Catalyst Paperback – September 15, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Chemistry honors student and cross-country runner Kate Malone is driven. Daughter of a father who is a reverend first and a parent second ("Rev. Dad [Version 4.7] is a faulty operating system, incompatible with my software.") and a dead mother she tries not to remember, Kate has one goal: To escape them both by gaining entrance to her own holy temple, MIT. Eschewing sleep, she runs endlessly every night waiting for the sacred college acceptance letter. Then two disasters occur: Sullen classmate Teri and her younger brother, Mikey, take over Kate's room when their own house burns down, and a too-thin letter comes from MIT, signifying denial. And so the experiment begins. Can crude Teri and sweet Mikey, combined with the rejection letter, form the catalyst that will shake Kate out of her selfish tunnel vision and force her to deal with the suppressed pain of her mom's death? "If I could run all the time, life would be fine. As long as I keep moving, I'm in control." But for Kate, it's time to stop running and face the feelings she's spent her whole life racing away from.

Catalyst, Laurie Halse Anderson's third novel for teens, is a deftly fashioned character study of a seldom explored subject in YA fiction: the type-A adolescent. Teens will identify (if not exactly sympathize) with prickly Kate instantly, and be shocked or perhaps secretly pleased to discover that life is no easier for the honor roll student than it is for the outcast. Anderson earns an A plus for this revealing and realistic take on life, death, and GPAs. (Ages 12 and older) --Jennifer Hubert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Like its cross-country-running heroine, Anderson's (Speak) latest novel starts off promisingly, then loses its pacing about midway through. The narrator, 18-year-old Kate Malone, has placed all of her eggs in one basket: she has applied only to her late mother's alma mater, MIT. Calculus is a cinch, chemistry is her favorite subject, even physics comes easily to her, but when her MIT rejection arrives, it acts as catalyst for the slow unraveling of her delicately balanced life. A preacher's daughter, she struggles between "Good Kate" and "Bad Kate" as she singlehandedly keeps the household running (her mother died nine years ago). Anderson excels in conveying Kate's anxieties and her concomitant insomnia, and frequently intersperses evidence of Kate's sharp humor (she calls Mitchell A. Pangborn III "my friend, my enemy, my lust"). But Kate's relationships with others remain hazy. While this seems to reflect Kate's state of mind, since she slowly shuts everyone out as her MIT-less fate becomes clear, her detachment may create a similar effect for readers. This aloofness becomes most problematic in the dynamics of her relationship with Teri Litch, who once beat her up habitually. After Teri's house burns down, she and toddler Mikey Litch come to live with the Malones, and the action escalates to the point of melodrama. Yet another tragic event spurs a reconciliation between Kate and Teri, but the underlying changes in the individuals that lead up to this event remain unclear. Teens will take to Kate instantly, but as the novel continues, they may be confused about what makes her tick. Still, the universal obstacles she faces and the realistic outcome will likely hold readers' attention. Ages 12-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (September 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142400017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142400012
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature...". She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. She and her husband, Scot, plus dogs Kezzie and Thor, and assorted chickens and other critters enjoy country living and time in the woods. When not writing or hanging out with her family, you can find Laurie training for marathons or trying to coax tomatoes out of the rocky soil in her backyard. You can follow her adventures on Twitter,, and on her blog,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book. It dealt with a lot of issues that many books just don't cover, and it was refreshing to read something different from fantasy for a change (I'm a big fantasy fan). It was also interesting to think about what the title means. To different people, Kate's catalyst was caused by different things... college, Teri, Mikey... it's up to you to decide just what was the turning point in Kate's life and what was the cause.
The plot follows an 18-year-old straight A chemist named Kate. Her father is a preacher, which makes the story interesting, because Kate is an active aetheist. She runs at night, irons clothes, cleans her brother's room, anything to get herself out of bed. This causes many of her friends (mainly Mitch, her boyfriend) to worry, but she explains that she can't sleep. Kate is trying to get into MIT, the college that her mother went to, and didn't apply to any 'safety' schools, so if she doesn't make it to MIT she's not going to college. The story also follows Teri Litch, Kate's neighbor, though Kate is still the main character.
Catalyst will keep you guessing. It's not a boring, predictable book, and I was surprised so many times in this book that it's not even worth it to write them down. Though the plot was unpredictable, the book still flowed extremely well. Happiness, confusion, loss, anger, grief, and unconditional love were all wrapped up inside, and I can assure you that this book is definately worth reading. :)
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on October 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
... ...
But, getting back to Laurie Halse Anderson and to Merryweather High, the setting for SPEAK, and now for CATALYST... What? Yes, indeed, Laurie returns us to the land of the infamous Mr. Neck, and Hairwoman, and Andy the Beast--none of whom we get to see here. The story is set at the end of the school year following SPEAK, and Melinda, in another of Mr. Free-man's classes, does actually make a cameo appearance. So, knowing all of this ahead of time, you are possibly going to open this book and look for it to grab you by the throat and mystify you the way you were immediately mystified by Melinda Sorrentino's treatment on the bus and in the auditorium on her first day at the school.
Well, get over it! This is a whole different chemical equation:
Kate Malone, minister's daughter, star student, and runner, is a senior who lives for her acceptance letter to MIT--the only college she has bothered to apply to.
"Insomnia rocks, actually. You can get a lot done if you don't sleep. I've turned into a hyper-efficient windup Kate doll, super Kate, the über-Kate. I wish this had happened last year. It would have given me more time to study for my AP exams."
She introduces us to her family:
"Toby and I are the proton and neutron of our atomic family unit. Dad is the loosely bonded electron, negatively charged, zooming around us in his own little shell."
She introduces us to her group of friends:
"Sara slides her sunglasses across the table. I take off my glasses and put them on. The room mellows to a golden, SFP-protected glow...They are all out of focus now, but...I'd recognize these shapes anywhere. Sara Emery, my BF, is a self-described Wiccan Jewish poet.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Autonomous Polar Bear on February 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Being the sister of an MIT student and having loved Anderson's previous novel Speak, I was prepared to be stunned by the author's next book, a novel about a girl who *gasp* wants to go to MIT! Maybe this was why Catalyst, a perfectly average (maybe even above average) teen novel came as something of a disappointment. While the author's wit, psychological insight and excellent writing remain, something is different.
The protagonist of Catalyst is Kate Malone. Preacher's daughter, brilliant student, lots of friends and a hot boyfriend who just got into Harvard. We should hate her--and hey! I do. I don't know where Anderson went wrong with Kate. In most respects, she's a fabulous portrait of a "perfect" person who's falling apart in the seams, breaking down from the inside. But I still can't help resenting the hell out of her--being jealous about her perfect grades, nice dad, faithful friends and great boyfriend. Anderson had a winner with Speak because the heroine, Melinda was someone almost everyone could either relate to or pity. Kate isn't relatable at all.
Catalyst is a solid effort in other aspects. While Kate lacks the witty, cynical humor characteristic of Melinda (Kate's humor is rather perkier), it's still better than the fluffy idiocy one finds in "Angus, Thongs...Snogging" and its ilk. What disappointed me about Catalyst, however was that we didn't get as comprehensive a view of all the different cliques and people that make up high school as we did with Speak. Kate was not as observant (or in my opinion, as intelligent) as Melinda. Anderson also showed a tendency to overdramatize, something which was mercifully absent from Speak. While Terry's brother's death was handled with the understated, not-too-flashy sorrow that made Speak so enjoyable, many other incidents got much more description than they warranted. Overall though, still 100% better than the average teen book.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Allyn on July 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Kate Malone seems like a perfect teenager. As an almost-valedictorian, a star track runner, and an obsessed chemistry student, it seems certain that she's going to get into MIT-her dream, her aspiration, her goal. But then the letter of rejection comes from MIT, and Kate's life begins to unravel. In the midst of Kate's depression and denial, her neighbor's house burns down (and who would that neighbor be but Teri Litch, who has always been Kate's worst enemy) and the family comes to live with the Malones. Kate has only her father after her mother's long-ago death, but her relationship with him still remains distant during this troubled time in her life. As Kate's life becomes more chaotic that she ever dreamed, how can she reconcile herself to a life without MIT?
If nothing else, "Catalyst" takes a brave stab at delving deeper into a topic that is seldom explored. Many "young adult" books deal with depressed, addicted, or low-achieving teenagers, yet "Catalyst" does just the opposite. Lori Halse Anderson begins the books with several well-done chapters showing just how driven, obsessive, and in some ways, dysfunctional Kate really is. Readers can literally feel how much Kate WANTS to go to MIT, and Kate's frayed nerves about being admitted and her subsequent denial over not being accepted are vividly brought to life.
But after those first few chapters and Kate's "breakdown" over the MIT issue, the book loses something. It seems that as we continue reading "Catalyst," the Teri Litch situation takes up more and more of the story line, and instead of being a good complication in the story, it merely seems to distract from the issue of Kate resolving her feelings about MIT, college, and failure. I kept wating for Kate to sit down, "take stock," and come to grips with her disappointment.
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