From that time on, the world was hers for the reading....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Laurie Halse Anderson: Catalyst

I watched "Speak" on Lifetime Saturday night. It's a good movie. I imagine the book is even better. Problem is, it's always checked out. In its absence, I decided to grab a different Laurie Halse Anderson book--Catalyst.

Meet Kate Malone--straight-A science and math geek, minister's daughter, ace long-distance runner, girlfriend (to Mitchell "Early Decision Harvard" Pangborn III), unwilling family caretaker, 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. Because her father is a Good Man of God (and a Not Very Thoughtful Parent), Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri's troublemaking but adorable little brother. The days are ticking down and she's still waiting to hear from the only college she's applied to: MIT. Kate's life is less and less under control--and then, something happens 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.

There are two Kate Malones:

Good Kate is smart, sweet, helpful, positive, and has her act together.

Bad Kate is disrespectful, bitchy, negative, and about to snap.

Her mother died nine years ago, and it's up to Kate to take care of her preacher father and fourteen-year-old brother Toby. Despite the struggle between Good Kate and Bad Kate, she has a very well-balanced life.

Unfortunately, she only applied to one college--MIT--and things start to unravel when she receives a rejection letter.

To make matters worse, Teri Litch--a bully who used to beat up Kate daily and habitually steals Kate's belongings--and her little brother Mikey come to live with the Malones, which means Kate now has two more people to take care of, more responsibilities, and even less control.

Laurie Halse Anderson did a fantastic job describing Kate's anxiety and insomnia. (Trust me, I know a great deal about both.)

However, despite a tragic twist in the story that surprised me, I felt something was missing from the storytelling. The supporting cast of characters--even Teri--seemed rather one-dimensional. I wanted to know more about them, what makes them tick, and how they got to where they are. I suppose, as the story was told from Kate's point of view--and she's somewhat unbalanced as things spiral out of control--the blurry storytelling makes sense. Still, it took away from my reading experience.

All in all, though, Kate's story was relatable and the ending was realistic.

It wasn't a bad way to dive into Laurie Halse Anderson's writing. I still look forward to reading Speak.

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