literary-sad-girl-canon, because I was both mopey and precocious, a literary sad girl. Yes, I know it's dumb but that's what I'm calling it. Anyway, when I was young, my mopey self was super into Laurie Halse Anderson. I mean, super. I didn't know book-signings were a thing back then but if I did, I probably would have dragged my mom to one because I worshipped this woman. SPEAK was the first book of hers I read and I loved it so much I wanted to read everything else that she wrote too. Unfortunately, though, nothing else came close except, maybe, WINTERGIRLS and TWISTED (I remember liking those a lot but it's been years since I read them and I can no longer vouch for Teen Me's choices).
One thing I like about Anderson's books is that all of her protagonists are so different. PROM is about a bad girl who might not be so bad. SPEAK is about an outcast struggling to find her place and overcome trauma. CATALYST is about a good girl with some bad problems. Kate Malone is a preacher's daughter with aspirations to get into MIT. She's so confident (or risky) that it's the only school she applied to-- no safeties. As she gets more and more neurotic about the acceptance deadlines, more trouble brews. Teri Litch, the school bad girl and Kate's ex-bully, has her house burn down, so she ends up staying with Kate-- along with her little brother. Saturday morning sitcom this is not.
I don't think this book is quite as strong as SPEAK but it's a better book than PROM and attempts to tackle some pretty serious topics, like not getting into your dream college, the struggle between selfish and selfless actions, incest (yikes), and dead loved ones/grief. I actually really liked Kate because she reminded me a lot of me in high school and college. I was also very grades and extra curriculars focused and I tended to beat myself up about it. I also had my heart set on one college but unlike Kate (spoilers) I got in. Where it failed, I think, is that the story just isn't as compelling as SPEAK was. SPEAK, to me, felt very linear with a clear message whereas CATALYST was much more disorganized. It ventured from topic to topic, like an after school special that wasn't sure what it was supposed to be warning me against, and even though I did find Kate a compellingly unlikable (but relatable) heroine, I just didn't quite vibe with her the way I did with Melinda.
P.S. Melinda makes a cameo in this book. She's still creating art. YAAAAAASS.
3 out of 5 stars