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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, and so sure of her chances, 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.

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Provides the following examples:

  • Abusive Parents: Teri's father was abusive towards both her and her mother.
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted with the volunteers Jack pulled together to help rebuild the Litch home after the fire. .
  • Adult Fear: Everything about Charlie Litch. Teri explains to Kate that the reason Mrs. Litch is the way she is is because "My mom got hit in the head with a bat once. My dad was holding the bat." And then there's Mikey, who exists as a result of Parental Incest.
  • The Ace: Kate: stellar track athlete, budding chemist, mathematics expert. In her eyes she is a perfect candidate for MIT.
  • Break the Haughty: At the start of the story, Kate is certain of her chances to get into MIT. Her world abruptly falls apart when she's rejected, but she gradually comes to learn that life could be much worse.
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  • Brick Joke: As Kate watches Melinda's art class put up a sculpture in the hallway, she notes to herself that the plastic heart glued to the front of it will be the first thing to get ripped off. Several chapters later, she passes by the sculpture again and sees that the heart is gone.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Teri refers to her deceased father by his first name, Charlie. It's later revealed that he wasn't a very good person.
  • Cheerful Child: Two-year-old Mikey Litch is perpetually adorable.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Betty, an elderly neighbor of the Malones and the one to take in Mrs. Litch after the fire, claims she talks to Jesus in her television. Then there's Mrs. Litch herself, whose condition is the result of a head injury from her abusive husband.
  • 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: Mikey. He's too young to understand his turbulent family history or what's going on with his house, and every time he's around the tone of the story shifts to the more lighthearted side. 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.
  • Death of a Child: Mikey's death is the turning point of the story.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Kate thinks back on her mother quite a lot, and it's strongly implied that her drive to get into MIT no matter what stems from her mother having gone there.
  • Disappeared Dad: Teri's father is absent, having died in jail after attacking his wife with a baseball bat and impregnating their daughter.
  • Due to the Dead: Still in shock immediately following Mikey's death, Kate and her friends stay at the Litch house after everyone else has left, lighting candles and drawing with paint on the walls. Later, Mikey's funeral is attended by dozens of people, some of whom Kate hadn't expected to see there.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: A variation in which the reveal is made to the audience rather than the subject in question. It's implied Teri never intended for Mikey to grow up believing she was only his sister.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Mitch makes this point while calling Teri out for her behavior:
    "We're all sorry that Mikey was killed, and I know you've had a really hard life. But that doesn't give you permission to make Kate feel like shit, or make fun of people, or steal from them."
  • Foreshadowing: At one point in the story, Mikey asks for "Mommy". Toby brings Teri instead, since it's Teri who takes care of Mikey. Mikey doesn't ask for his mother again. Why? Because Toby got it right the first time.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: The protagonist's "Good Kate" and "Bad Kate" function this way throughout the story.
  • Heroic BSoD: Kate's immediate reaction after receiving the rejection letter from MIT. Also Teri, after Mikey dies. In this case the results are much more dramatic and violent.
  • Idiot Ball: Kate not applying to safety schools; it's so bad that Mitch doesn't even call her out for it because he knows she is hurting badly already.
  • Ill Boy: Kate's brother, Toby, is implied to have been plagued with respiratory problems since he was very young.
  • It's Always Sunny at Funerals: Mikey Litch's funeral is held on a beautiful sunny day that smells of lilacs. Kate lampshades this, commenting on how "obscene" it is to bury a body on such a day.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Subverted, much to Kate's disappointment.
  • The Mourning After: Jack Malone. Kate says she once overheard him tell someone that he buried his heart along with his wife.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Used rather amusingly when Teri throws an expletive-laden fit.
  • No Name Given: Teri's mother is only ever called Mrs. Litch.
  • Now What?: Kate spends most of the book in Heroic BSoD, and she still doesn't have any college plans. She decides to start putting her life back together by helping Teri with her plans to put her life back together.
  • Promotion to Parent: Mrs. Litch's mental state doesn't really allow for her to be an adequate mother to Mikey, so most of that role falls to Teri. Or so it seems. In reality, Teri looks after Mikey because she is his mother.
  • Reality Ensues: Kate is rejected from MIT, and her attempts to push for an appeal do not work to help her overturn that ruling. She's able to at least get a clear explanation as to why they turned her down, but in the end she has to face the fact that she's not getting in.
  • Senior Year Struggles: Kate's plot deals with her naive determination to go to MIT. She only applied to MIT and lied about it to her dad, leaving her in a very difficult and confusing position when MIT actually rejects her and she has to deal with the fallout.
  • Sticky Fingers: Teri has a habit of just grabbing things belonging to other people, be it personal belongings or even food right off people's plates. She steals (and unabashedly wears) Kate's watch, and later the necklace her boyfriend Mitch gave her. She gives them both back later, but Kate allows her to keep the watch.
  • Tell Me About Our Mother: Toby asks this of Kate, when he decides he wants to write about the deceased Colleen Malone for a school project.
  • 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.
    • To be fair, Jack does try to help Kate at first, before the Litches take up his attention, but his idea of help is discussing Kate's safety schools and she doesn't want to tell him she never applied for any.
  • Teeth Flying: During the fight with the football players in the school cafeteria, Teri knocks out the defensive tackle's tooth. Kate later overhears him planning to press charges over it.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Teri gave birth to Mikey at the age of sixteen.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Mitch calls out Teri for stealing Kate's things and using her as an emotional punching bag after Mikey's death.
    • Averted, however, when Mitch finds out that Kate has no safety schools and thus not a guarantee of college in the next year. He doesn't criticize her, and rallies her friends at a diner breakfast to help her.
  • Trash the Set: For Teri, part of the grieving process over Mikey's death involves smashing her partially renovated house with a sledgehammer.
  • Wham Line: "He's my son, my son, my baby, my boy."
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