Sunday, April 10, 2005

Catalyst, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Set at the same High School as Anderson's Speak, this is a somewhat similar (but different) story about a high school girl who has hit the success path with a grinding abandon that too many adults do. She works especially hard to be the "Good Kate" who excels at all her classes and extracurricular activities, until it all falls apart. And, of course, learns that there is more to life than excelling at education.

In a subtle moment, there is a gratuitous moment where the heorine of Speak and Kate actually meet and share a few words. But thankfully that moment is kept tastefully short. But the two girls are also surprisingly similar: overachievers with communication problems. They succeed at everything they do, except for talking about their needs with the people they love. That is sad (and a recurring theme of YA literature) and also discouraging because Anderson never shows her characters really overcoming their problems. They fix their immediate problems, but their fears that hold them back are never really overcome. That's the way modern novellists like to work (avoid the tidy ending) but in reading these stories you really wish the girls had grown in that way as well.

In this book, it is particularly frustrating: you really want things to work out somehow, but problems are unresolved at the end (with resolutions merely hinted at). I longed at the end for Kate to come up with some sort of summary about her experience and how she had changed.

But perhaps the fact that I wanted it so badly is indicative of the quality of the book. With too many other books, I could have cared less. So, I'd recommend this one and giving yourself a chance to get as frustrated over Kate's choices as I did.


lmun said...

The characters from "Catalyst" and "Speak" are not both overachievers. Kate is an overachiever in school and in life, however Melinda did not excell at school or sports for that matter. To say that the two protagonists are the same is false.

Paul said...

First of all, thank you for your comment.

It's been a while since I read Speak, and I fear that the excellent film adaptation is much more fresh in my mind right now, but Melinda is very similar to Kate. She's as insightful as Kate, to an almost surreal degree.

And I'm not sure I'd write off Melinda's talents. She's a strong artist and also something of an emotional overachiever. Overcoming the silencing effect of her rape is far more extraordinary than any of Kate's "accomplishments."

That said, I probably did oversimplify a bit, but it did seem that Anderson was recycling her characters a little.