Speaking of Speak (which is published by Speak), Catalyst actually takes place in the very same high school, and Melinda makes a brief appearance. The Melinda here seems pretty happy and is still doing her art. Yay! Of course, she was only in for a page, but, hey, it was nice to see her and to get the sense that she's actually recovered. I really love when authors reference previous works.
Laurie Halse Anderson's writing makes me want to spin around Julie Andrews style because of how freaking wonderful it is. Seriously, if I had to quantify my favorite writing style, it would be one that is dark, funny, and dripping with wit. Her writing here fits in perfectly with John Green's and A.S. King's, in the category of writing so good that it kind of makes me never want to write anything, since I can never be that good at putting things into words.
Of course, Anderson does not merely excel at writing. She backs it up with characterization. Kate Malone bursts with personality. She has both teenage hubris and insecurity in spades. Her voice is powerful and acerbic. A pastor's daughter, she has developed a dichotomy within herself of how she's supposed to act and all the things she wants to say: Good Kate and Bad Kate. While this technique can be awful when done wrong, Anderson used it effectively. It just fit Kate and her rigorous need to be perfect warring with her judgmental personality.
Kate loves math and science, dreams of attending MIT, her late mother's alma mater. She's done everything she can: earned the grades, taken the tests, filled her life with extracurriculars, excelled at a sport, volunteered at her father's church, and worked part-time at a pharmacy. She's a shoe-in, right? Well, she told herself that anyway when she decided to apply only to MIT and nowhere else...even when she wasn't accepted early decision.
With the letter, hopefully the fat one, from MIT due any day, Kate cannot sleep, spending most of every night running or performing household chores. The own stresses in her life are put into perspective by a larger tragedy that forces her into a relationship with her childhood tormenter, Teri Litch. The main detractor in the novel was that I felt like Kate forgave Teri much too easily and let her get away with too much. The whole time I kept yelling at her to get the watch and necklace (both with sentimental value) Teri stole from her back.
Another wonderful thing about this book: the romance. Unlike most YA, it's not about Kate's relationship, nor does it include a new love interest. She already has a boy, Mitchell, her former rival, who she argues with a lot less now that they spend quite a bit of time kissing. Also setting this book apart, Mitchell is not the kind of guy most girls would find attractive, but Kate still thinks he's hot, which was so cute and refreshing. Their relationship definitely reads like one that will not last long once they go to college, and it was so much more authentic than all of these soulmates confessing their love on a first date.
While I do think some of the plotting elements were a bit rushed, I loved this book for the characterization, the writing and for completely surprising me. Seriously, there was a twist I did not see coming at all. Anyway, Anderson is brilliant, in case you didn't know that already.