Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

catalyst“At my lab table, I review the experiment:

Step 1. Hypothesis-I am brilliant. I am special.  I am going to MIT, just like my mom did.  I am going to change the world.

Step 2. Procedure-Acquire primary and secondary school education.  Follow all rules.  Excel at chemistry and math, ace standardized tests.  Acquire social skills and athletic prowess; maintain a crushing extracurricular load.  Earn national science fair honors.  Apply to MIT. Wait for acceptance letter. ”

 

Kate Malone is a Dream Daughter: a straight-A student, a minister’s daughter, a long-distance runner.  She makes sure her brother takes his asthma medication, and that everyone has healthy meals.  She seems like the perfect student, too.  She has her heart set on MIT, and is doing everything she can to make it happen.   But it’s not easy; in fact, her life is grueling.  The only way to manage everything is with strict organization, by following The Plan.  However, when Kate’s neighbors’ home catches fire, Kate finds herself the unwilling host to a surly schoolmate and a little boy, making it difficult to keep up her routine.   And then everything starts spinning out of control,

This book is set in the same community as Speak, and it is exactly as compelling.  Laurie Halse Anderson is spectacular: she’s great at creating these nuanced, realistic characters, setting them down in gripping situations, and then telling us what happens.  This story is tragic and Kate’s voice is so natural and tense that it is a difficult book to put down.    Also, Laurie Halse Anderson  is really wonderful at producing accessible, interesting stories with excellent literary elements.   Do you remember how the main character, Melinda, had trouble with her voice and speaking, a symbol that was woven throughout the story?  In this story, Kate struggles with her vision, and readers can start to explore symbolism with the changes that happen to Kate when she switches between  her glasses and contacts.  Quality literature for the win!

Happy Reading!

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Catalyst. Speak: New York, 2002.  231 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably like other books by the same author.  Try Speakor Wintergirlsbut know they (like Catalyst) are about some rough stuff, and be prepared!

 

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Identical by Ellen Hopkins

“At ten it isn’t exactly

easy to separate

good touch

from bad

touch,

proper

love from

improper love,

doting daddy from perv.”

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins: beautiful, wealthy, well-dressed, living in a large house in a prestigious area.  Their father is a respected judge, and their mother is on her way to winning a seat in the Senate. Of course, (remember, this is an Ellen Hopkins book), nothing is as nice as it appears.  After a devastating accident when the twins were young, their father begins drinking, abusing prescription medication, and sexually abusing Kaeleigh.  Their mother spends more and more time on the campaign trail, feigning ignorance of the situation at home.  The girls try to compensate for the devastation in the family in various ways: Raeanne sleeps with guys to get drugs, using sex, drugs, and alcohol to medicate herself.  Kaeleigh binges and forces herself to vomit, and cuts herself in the shower.  Both girls despair of ever being whole again.

I can’t say much more, because I don’t want to give anything away.  The ending is surprising, and felt slightly contrived, but after problems with the scope and nature of Raeanne’s and Kaeleigh’s, that is understandable.   It’s hard to resolve such trauma in the space of a single story, and I don’t feel like the ending will be objectionable to younger readers.  Furthermore, I think Hopkins handles the emotional fallout of sexual abuse in a very realistic way, which makes up for the ending.

 This is a novel in unrhymed verse, and many of the poems are shaped to look like hearts, letters, and other designs.  However, it still reads quickly, and the arrangement doesn’t interfere with ease-of-reading.  That said, the topics do.  This book was so disturbing that I was compelled to finish it in the space of seven tense hours.  I just wanted to get through it, so that I could be free of it.  Compelling isn’t the half of it: once I started, I had to finish.

I know that Ellen Hopkins is a wildly popular author, and readers are constantly clamoring for more, and any book that makes young people want to read is a winner with me.  Yes, please! If you love books about tough stuff, this one may be for you.  Hopkins is undeniably a skilled writer, and her novels fill an important space in the YA lit world.  When we refuse to address certain topics, it creates a shroud of shame around them, which is why I applaud authors who don’t shy away from tricky subjects.  However, I would recommend this book only to very mature readers, due to the graphic content.  We’re talking incest, drugs, bulimia, self-injury, BDSM, alcoholism, and date rape.  This isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.ellenhopkins.com (Right now, it’s currently under construction, but you can look her up on Facebook, if you want!)

Hopkins, Ellen. Identical. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. 565 pp. Ages 16 (a mature 16) and up.