Literature: Catalyst

Catalyst is a 2002 novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story takes place in the same universe as Halse's acclaimed novel Speak, a year after the events of that novel, and focuses on senior Kate Malone as she makes plans for college.

Kate is a preacher's daughter who excels in chemistry and is a star track athlete, with her sights dead-set on getting into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology once she graduates from Merryweather High School. She's so determined, in fact, that it's the only college she's applied to. Her getting rejected is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as soon afterwards a fire renders her neighbors - her abrasive school nemesis Teri Litch, Teri's mentally unstable mother, and her adorable toddler brother Mikey - homeless, and Kate's father arranges for Teri and Mikey to move in with his family. Kate must now struggle to deal with her rejection from MIT and a less-than-pleasant new roommate, all while maintaining her sanity.

Provides the following examples:

  • Abusive Parents: Teri's father turns out to have been one.
  • Adults Are Useless: Jack Malone tries and fails to help Teri Litch and Mikey, while ignoring that his daughter may need some guidance following her rejection from MIT.
  • The Ace: Kate - stellar track athlete, budding chemist, mathematics expert - in her eyes, a perfect candidate for MIT.
  • Break the Haughty: The whole story is a seemingly endless one for Kate.
  • Child by Rape: Mikey, who is both Teri's brother and her son.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Betty, an elderly neighbor of the Malones and the one to take in Mrs. Litch after the fire, claims she can sometimes see Jesus in her television. Then there's Teri's mother, a less comedic example.
  • The Cameo: Melinda Sordino, the protagonist of Speak, makes a brief one - just long enough for the audience to learn how much better she's doing. Kate can't seem to remember her last name, instead calling her "Melinda Something" in the narration.
  • Children Are Innocent: Two-year-old Mikey Litch. The biggest problem he ever ends up causing is an exceptionally filthy diaper.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Kate pretends to be her deceased mother when she calls MIT's enrollment office to find out why she was rejected. They realize who she is and wish her good luck.
  • Disappeared Dad: Teri's father is not in the picture, having died in jail after attacking his wife with a baseball bat and impregnating his daughter.
  • Heroic BSOD: Everyone goes through this in varying degrees after Mikey's death, but particularly Teri.
  • Ill Boy: Kate's brother, Toby, is implied to have been plagued with respiratory problems since he was very young.
  • Infant Immortality: Painfully averted.
  • The Mourning After: Jack Malone, who once told someone that he buried his heart along with his wife.
  • No Name Given: Teri's mother is only ever called Mrs. Litch.
  • Promotion to Parent: Teri has largely taken on the role of caring for Mikey, seeing as Mrs. Litch is...not entirely there. Ultimately averted - Teri is the parent.
  • Sticky Fingers: Teri, who unabashedly steals (and wears) Kate's watch, and later the necklace her boyfriend Mitch gave her. Mitch takes offense to this, on Kate's behalf.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Jack Malone's job doesn't leave much time for spending time with his daughter, leaving her to her own devices when she gets rejected from MIT. He doesn't even know that she had no safety schools. He spends more time trying to help Teri and her mother after Mikey dies and Teri starts destroying her house.
  • What The Hell Bully: Mitch calls out Teri for stealing Kate's things and using Kate as an emotional punching bag after Mikey's death.