High school senior and brilliant science student Kate Malone is nearly every parent’s dream — motivated, intelligent, organized, hard-working. Only the only parent she has around these days is her father, Rev. Malone, and he’s often too busy preaching to her to actually listen to her. And the only thing she wants to talk about anyway is getting into MIT — the same school her deceased mother attended in her youth.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst finds Kate floundering as she waits and waits for the letter from her top choice school — and her only choice school, as she didn’t feel the need to apply to college anywhere else. MIT is it. If it’s not MIT, it’s nothing.
As Kate goes out for runs to clear her head, the Litch family, her neighbors, are going through their own series of disasters. A fire sweeps across their property, landing oldest daughter Teri Litch and her two-year-old brother Mikey in Kate’s bedroom to stay. And their presence completely changes her life — and drags her from the stupor in which she’s been living since her mother’s death, running faster and faster until the world blurs and everything else fades away.
This is a moving, serious and deep novel — and I’m not even sure I’ve gotten to the heart of it all yet. Subtle, understated and very emotionally resonant, Kate and Teri’s stories intertwine to produce an original story with some shocking twists. It’s hard to even talk about the novel without feeling like I’m going to give something away . . . but suffice it to say that while I did see a few of the plots points coming, most of them blind-sided me — and left me with a major ache in my stomach.
Laurie Halse Anderson, already a literary legend for her powerful novel Speak, has created another masterful tale teens and adults will have a hard time forgetting. I did get a little annoyed by Kate in the center of the story as she dwelled excessively on MIT, but I think that was a device — we had to see how consumed she was by her own needs. And that was a coping mechanism, of course. Kate’s selfishness and one-track mind melt away as life takes hold of her, forcing her to read out a hand — and a heart — for the first time. Highly recommended.
4.5 out of 5!