A Series of Many, Many, Many Unfortunate Events
By Dory Warner
I am a faithful and unashamed fan of the increasingly popular “angsty teen” genre of books that seem to be taking up more and more space in the Young Adult sections at book stores. Catalyst is Laurie Halse Anderson’s admirable attempt at embodying such popular youth adult books. The story centers around high school senior Kate, who spends her time divided between being “Good Kate” and “Bad Kate.” Akin to A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Catalyst takes the reader from one misfortune to the next. In fact, Anderson switches from rejection to death to insomnia so fast that I often felt unsure who I should be sympathizing with.
Kate is introduced as both Good Kate: “Rev. Jack Malone’s girl, isn’t she sweet, she helps so much with the house,” and Bad Kate: “daughter of no one, she’s such a bitch, thinks she’s all that, prays with her eyes open.” Anderson creates this two-sided character to represent a realistic teen. Kate is a science-obsessed overachiever, whose decision to apply solely to MIT seems to the be the overriding cause of her insomnia. About a third of the way through the book, Kate’s life becomes intertwined with Teri Litch, “the ugly girl, the one who smells funny,” when Teri is forced to move in with Kate’s family.
Although Anderson does accurately capture the constant moodiness and unpredictability that is present in all teens, she seems to have been carried away with challenging herself to see how many misfortunes she could pack into Catalyst. Anderson jumps right into the story, barely pausing to introduce the characters to the reader. The only two characters who we get to see develop are Teri and Kate herself, leaving us with about a dozen undeveloped characters.
The climax of the book, essentially the “biggest misfortune,” I would have to say is the death of Teri’s brother Mitch, when it is revealed that Mitch is in fact Teri’s son, after Teri was raped by her father. It was at this point in reading Catalyst that I began to wonder if Anderson was ever going to slow down the plot and let the catastrophe properly run its course. I must admit that Anderson did allow an adequate amount of time after Mitch’s death before tossing in the next unfortunate event, although at that point the idea that any one group of people could be so unlucky in a matter of weeks does border on ludicrous.
In Speak, Anderson’s much acclaimed book, she succeeds in introducing the reader to the world of teens who are trying to find themselves, and the problems they encounter along the way. Catalyst, however, seems to be a collection of the misfortunes perhaps Anderson thought of while writing Speak, but did not have room to include. If you are a reader looking for a happy tale of success about a teen, this would not be the book for you. That said, if you are looking for a dark and complicated book about the life of a teen, well, you might be better off picking up a copy of Speak.