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Laurie Halse Anderson is the award-winning author of SPEAK, a telling novel about high school cliques, and the expected conformity and sought after acceptance that are part and parcel of the teenage experience. In CATALYST, her latest young adult novel, she treads on some similar territory but never repeats herself.

From the outside Kate Malone --- or "Good Kate" as she refers to herself --- is an honor roll student, science fair winner, and exceptional long-distance runner. The daughter of a widowed minister, Kate inherited the responsibilities of a mother at a young age --- doing the laundry for the family, making the meals, insuring that her younger brother takes his medications, keeping her father's calendar. She bears the burden of these chores with great aplomb, and continues to maintain an above average scholarly record, good enough in fact to apply to MIT, her deceased mother's alma mater and Kate's dream school.

Appropriately titled CATALYST, Kate's story is about what happens when she chooses to apply to only one college. "Bad Kate" struggles internally with telling her father that she didn't choose any safety schools; her jealousies over her fellow students' early college acceptances; her insomnia and midnight runs; and her desire to be the absolute best at everything she does. Anderson's touch here is perfect. She gives us realistic internal battles that all teens can identify with. The need to be number one, popular. The desire to please everyone, at the risk of not pleasing oneself.

When her neighbor's house burns down, and the two children move in with Kate's family, her life takes unexpected twists and turns, and spirals out of Kate's control. Often emotionally distant, Kate finds herself warming up to her new teenage roommate, her former enemy, Terri Litch. The events that unfold conspire to make Kate take a true look at her relationships with her family, her friends, her boyfriend, and even her deceased mother. In the end, Kate discovers that she --- the above average Kate --- is only human, fraught with insecurities, doubts, and questions, and that's okay.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on September 30, 2002

by Laurie Halse Anderson

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2002
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0670035661
  • ISBN-13: 9780670035663