combining(5 senses) + character development = {catalyst

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by the Penguin Group, New York, 2002; 231 pages.

This is not your average coming of age story.  Sure, the same struggles exist: friends and family don’t understand the main character; she grows and her maturity helps her understand her past and prepare for the future; and the threshold from high school to the real world is about to be crossed.  But Kate Malone isn’t your average teen and Laurie Halse Anderson isn’t your average author.  Kate Malone is an honors student, athlete, and minister’s daughter.  Anderson gives her a unique voice; we read as though paging through Kate’s chemistry notebook cum diary.  Sometimes her thoughts are jotted down sentence fragments, committed to paper in a rush; sometimes she fleshes out the details so they won’t be forgotten; always, the narrator’s voice is letting us in on just enough of her thought process to keep us eavesdropping for a few more pages.  Anderson also excels at drawing us into the story with all our senses—you can almost feel the sweaty watchband on your skin, hear the metal clanging as Kate tries to open the locked locker, smell the chicken and biscuits, see the glare off the Bert’s windshield, and taste the stale glazed donut dunked in diner coffee.  In some ways, the stories of death, of college application missteps, of her friendships, are secondary to character development.  By watching Kate Malone fall apart and resurrect herself, we witness her coming of age; the plot is important but not the real story in Catalyst.

I enjoyed this book and want to read more of Anderson’s work to better understand why she was chosen for the Margaret A. Edwards Award.  Witnessing Kate Malone reach outside herself to support Teri Litch was an inspirational example of Kate’s character growth.  Being able to feel the stress and exhaustion then finally resignation and peace are the result of Anderson’s remarkable storytelling talent.  Kate Malone could be any type-A personality student in any college prep program anywhere in the country.  Her growth and development, especially in the hands of Anderson, provide inspiration and a good read for high school students.   I think the depiction of a type-A teen will appeal to most teens as they prepare to step over the threshold to adulthood.

4P     5Q     Grades 10-12

catalystCover Art: Boring.  Plain and simple.  The underlying chemistry theme is done in muted tones.  The portrait, I assume of Kate Malone, is not striking.  The use of the bracket in the title and all lower-case letters is interesting, but not enough to generate interest based solely on the cover art.  The dark red letters on the dark spine did not stand out on the shelf—I was looking for this title in particular and had a fairly difficult time locating it.  Overall, teens would have to be looking for this book to pick it out; the cover seems to be designed for a class assignment!  When searching for the cover image to include here, I did notice that there is an updated cover that is more graphically interesting.

From Reading List: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2009 winner

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