Letter to High School Me – Reading Response

March 2016

Dear High School Me,

This week I read a book that includes a character who is a reflection me. The book is called Catalyst, and is by Laurie Halse Anderson. It won’t be published until 2002, but trust me, it needs to be read! You see, Kate is a pastor’s daughter (even though you are not one, you will be a pastor’s wife). She is at the top of her class academically (4.25 GPA me can totally relate). She feels an incredible sense of responsibility and takes care of her family.

Reading this book was like looking back at you – high school me. I really can relate to the character of Kate on so many levels. Kate struggles with the idea that there is a “Good Kate” and a “Bad Kate”. Good Kate does everything everyone expects of her. Good Kate studies hard. Good Kate takes care of her father and brother. Good Kate is efficient and completes all her homework and housework (thanks to insomnia). Good Kate holds down a job. Good Kate is a cross country star. Good Kate is not the real Kate.

Bad Kate is barely holding life together each day. Bad Kate is panicking because she didn’t get into the only school she applied to – MIT. Bad Kate sneaks out and runs miles at night. Bad Kate is annoyed by her boyfriend, but stays with him because he is a good kisser. Bad Kate can only get everything accomplished because she has insomnia and hardly sleeps. Bad Kate wants to scream to the world that she is the real Kate. Yet, she can’t do this because Good Kate won’t let her.

As an adult reading this book, you will see yourself in both Good Kate and Bad Kate. The struggle that Kate engages in daily to hold it together in an increasingly confusing world is one that you have gone through. Kate’s biggest struggle is the struggle to be who she really is. This is a struggle that you know very well. There were the nights you slept only 2 or 3 hours because of all the homework, activities, and practices that encompass your life. There were nights when your inner you struggled to break free from the expectations of your life – or at least the expectations you have placed on yourself. Kate is a complex character who struggles with living up to her perception of everyone’s expectations of her. You know this. Adult you sees high school you in many ways just like Kate. When you read this book, you will understand the pressure she puts herself under, you will see high school you, and you will wish you had done some things differently.

Laurie Halse Anderson has done an excellent job at painting the world of Kate. The struggles of Kate’s life are those of attempting to discover who she truly is and what these facts mean to her. You need to read this book because Kate is a version of you. Kate is someone who is working to figure out life and balance the you everyone expects and the you who you want to be. Anderson does an excellent job at letting the reader hear Kate’s voice and experience Kate’s struggles.

The challenges that face Kate in Catalyst are outside of your experiences. However, the way Kate changes often mirrors how high school you will change to adult you. In Catalyst Kate finds herself thrown together with someone she does not like. Kate and Teri find their lives forever entwined because of the fire that destroys Teri’s house. More than that, Kate and Teri become supports and friends when Mikey dies. These events are so important to the story of Catalyst. Kate’s world has crumbled around her – causing her to slowly implode. But she finds that Mikey’s death has impacted her also. It turns out that Kate’s life and her choices to this point have given her the opportunity to be open to forming this friendship bond with Teri.

Laurie Halse Anderson has spun a world that seems familiar and yet different to adult you. Kate’s struggle to discover who she is and find who she will be in the future. She battles the “Good Kate” of everyone’s expectations and the “Bad Kate” of her thoughts and actions. It takes some pretty horrible circumstances in order for Kate to start exploring her identity. About half-way through the book, Laurie Halse Anderson has Kate’s thoughts and focus shift from internal to external. She and Teri become friends and help each other through this extremely difficult time.

I know, High School Me, that this book won’t be published to 2002. However, you really need to get this book the day it comes out. Catalyst will change your life. It will mirror your high school reality in terms of attempting to discover her own identity. You get to see a window into the world of Teri – one that you will not have to experience, but one that creates an amazing character that you love. I promise, reading Catalyst will be worth your time. It will change you in ways you will not be able to imagine.

Love,

Future Me

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5 thoughts on “Letter to High School Me – Reading Response

  1. So beautiful! I am actually very interested in this book now. I am still trying to learn not to worry about others’ expectations of who I should be and to do what makes me love who I am and to live life doing what brings be joy and fulfills my passions. It is not easy, and I wish I’d had a book like this to relate to when I was a teen.

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    1. I’m in my 30s and still struggle. I so very deeply relate to Kate and her challenge to be her authentic self!
      I don’t think that I have raved about a book like this since All American Boys. This book is equally important.
      Thanks!

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      1. Haha. If we are age-dropping, I must admit I’m in my 30’s too, for longer than I can really believe 😜. Just shows that no matter our age and how many years we’ve had to find ourselves, it is still ok to not to have the whole picture of who we are and who we are meant to be. I think realizing that we don’t have to have it all “figured out” at this moment is important for me.

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