Thoughts On Catalyst


Welcome to another Thoughts On book review. You’ll see these pop up on my blog whenever I’ve found a book I just can’t put down. 

Laurie Halse Anderson. I’m sorry, but did you go to my high school?

Was that you in the corner of the cafeteria scribbling down last minute homework answers? Were you the one who complemented me on my sneakers that day during gym class? Did we pick up milk at the same SuperFresh?

Because I swear you were there. Everything in Catalyst says you were.

Reading Catalyst was like going back and watching the footage from my senior year (without all the pain of actually having to relive it!). Running, AP classes, college rejections. If Daddy Dearest was a pastor, I would have had to sprint to my bookshelf to make sure none of my journals had been lifted. (But seriously, how did you know about the wall of windows overlooking the cafeteria courtyard?)

Books about high school are great. Each one has its own unique spin on the all-too-real trials and tribulations of the adolescent experience. It’s easy to sympathize with the character as she navigates relationships, weathers car troubles, and stresses out over the ever-present deadline. I always enjoy the story and the experience of reading it but somewhere in the back of my mind it still registers as fiction.

Until now, that is.

One day I stumbled across a book, just one book, that got it. Hook, line, and sinker. It told everything the way I saw it. It supplied me with a character so authentically real to what I remember that I read her with a constant jaw-dropping look of disbelief. Catalyst completely replicated the world I once lived in and, for two hundred pages, it allowed me to go back and relive it.

No, I did not share my bedroom with someone like Teri Litch. No, I did not fail a track meet by refusing to start at the sound of the gun. No, I did not date a Harvard-accepted humanities major (but, hey, if any of them are out there…).

Despite all that, I felt an immediate and lasting sense of familiarity with this book from the very first page. Kate’s voice, her incredibly real sense of stress, her simultaneously scatterbrained and laser focused mind, her dedication to logic, and the general social and physical environment of her school are all things that I found myself totally relating to. For the duration of this book I was in Merryweather High waiting for my acceptance letter from MIT. Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing made me feel like I was inside the story. Like it was a memory.

So if you haven’t had the supreme pleasure of finding a book like this yet that takes you back to a time and place in such a realistic way you swear the line between memory and fiction has been erased, I encourage you to keep reading. That book is out there somewhere and words cannot describe how incredibly cathartic the experience of finding it is.

Finding a match like this is all the good parts of meeting up with an old friend or conversing with a younger version of yourself. It feels like someone else’s version of a time was plucked directly from your memory in only the most wonderful and comforting way. This person knows your voice, they get your humor, they remember everything that happened to you as a teenager and they’re still there with a shoulder for your heavy head.

And no matter how many chapters or sheets of paper it takes for the author to tell that story, the whole time the two of you are always on the exact same page.


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