Catalyst (2003) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a sequel/companion to Speak. It’s set one year after the events of Speak. This novel is narrated by Kate Malone: straight-A senior, science and math whiz, and daughter of the local reverend. Kate’s also a great runner, which is good because Kate’s been running from a lot of things:
Kate has been the family caretaker since her mother died. She hasn’t been sleeping as she waits to hear from her dream college (she runs instead). And now Teri Litch, Kate’s nemesis, and Terry’s little brother are living with the Malones. Kate tries to ignore all of these problems by running and keeping her head in the sand. Besides, things couldn’t get any worse. Until they do.
You’ll have to read the book to figure out what happens next because I don’t do spoiler reviews.
So now we can talk about the book in technical terms: The book is broken up into elements (solid, liquid, gas) and features quotes from an AP Chem prep book. Most of them are straightforward enough to be understandable and relate to the story. Kate also makes use of scientific elements for her narration without being overly scientific (AKA confusing/boring).
I greatly admire Laurie Halse Anderson. She’s a great writer and she never comes off as smug or pompous in her interviews at the back of her books. Even better, Anderson is a fresh voice.
That said, the voice here was not as fresh as it was in Speak. In other words, Kate’s narration sounds a lot like Melinda even though they are completely different characters. That bothered me. I like that Anderson’s prose is so snappy and often sarcastic, but it was weird having two disparate characters narrate in almost the same voice. Given the connection between these two books, I suppose comparisons are inevitable so I’ll finish the thought: Melinda is a more likable narrator than Kate. That makes a difference.
Ironically, the increased dialogue in this book (Melinda does not talk throughout most of hers) doesn’t make the characters more developed. The minor characters, particularly Sara and Travis, remain flat: developed enough to be quirky but not present enough to be memorable. This might be because Kate’s social circle is larger, giving Anderson more characters to fit into the narrative.
The other thing to bear in mind about Catalyst is that it is not the same kind of book as Speak. Kate’s path throughout the narrative, and her way through her problems, is very different than Melinda’s. (If you haven’t guessed yet, Kate’s path involves a lot of running.) This book also has a different appeal. Speak seemed more universal, the scope for Catalyst is more narrow. Anderson does a great job of capturing the anxiety and drama that surrounds the college application/acceptance process. She also creates a compelling study of the silent, overachiever that seems to be at every high school. More importantly, Anderson shows that those achievements don’t always come without a cost.
Overall, Catalyst is a good book. I enjoyed it and I would recommend it. But Speak was a great book that was, overall, more powerful than its sequel.
Possible Pairings: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Tumbling by Caela Carter, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Rx by Tracy Lynn, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford