Series: NightSister (Book 1 of 3)
Author: Catherine Hughes
Genre: YA, sci-fi, dystopian
Goodreads Rating: 4.67
Amazon Rating: 4.0 (US) / 4.5 (CA) / 5 (UK)
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Canting his head to one side, the alien pinned me with his gaze and, in keeping with what I’d heard about the Seristalya, I couldn’t look away. The alien’s magnetism was powerful and, although I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself – some part of my cornered mind acknowledged that he was beautiful.”
– Catherine Hughes
Before I get started with this review, I want to give full disclosure and admit right away that I know Catherine Hughes personally. I’m good friends with her daughter, so take that piece of information as you will. I did promise Catherine that I would give a completely honest, unbiased review of her book, however, and I intend to do just that.
Catalyst is Catherine Hughes’ debut novel. It is book one of the NightSister trilogy with book two set for release sometime in April, last I heard. I have an early release copy of book two that I’m reading right now and I intend to review that as well when I’ve finished with it. So far, it’s shaping up to be as exciting a read as the first instalment, which brings us to the book at hand, Catalyst.
“They’re coming here. And that means people will start to disappear.”
– Catherine Hughes
I’ll be perfectly honest, I was a little bit sceptical of this book when I first learned about the basic premise. While I enjoy young adult fiction, I couldn’t help but wonder if we really need yet another young adult dystopian sci-fi like The Hunger Games. After finishing the book, I humbly accepted that I have much to learn about what kinds of books readers do and don’t need because clearly, that’s up to the individual reader to decide for herself. Catalyst‘s biggest strength lies in its ability to take tired and overused young adult tropes and make them fresh by turning them on their heads. In many ways, Catalyst could be considered the anti-young adult fiction book of young adult fiction. The brilliant part? It does this while still celebrating the genre as a whole. If anything, the novel is a fierce argument against the idea that a young adult novel must follow the popular archetypes of the day in order to be accepted as a young adult novel.
“‘If it was enough, I wouldn’t be exhausted. If it was enough, I wouldn’t still be fat. People are starting to think we’ve got our own secret food supply in here.'”
– Catherine Hughes
In some ways, the character of Grace Harrison echoes the popular YA heroines of the day; she’s oppressed, she’s angry and she wants to fight back. In other ways, Grace stands apart from the crowd, not by being exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally gifted, but rather by being the opposite. Unlike the physically fit and beautiful heroines of the young adult genre, Grace is overweight and sickly with thinning hair that falls out and leaves her bald in places. She is not particularly strong physically despite her best efforts to stay in shape. While she is well-read and a decent runner, she doesn’t possess any innate skills from the beginning of the book that will aid her in overcoming future obstacles. She has no choice but to adapt to extraordinary circumstances with ordinary skill sets and it’s this that makes Catalyst‘s heroine a more tangible role model for adolescent girls. Most of us are not expert combat archers with perfect bodies, unblemished skin and long, flowing hair. Most of us are not and cannot be Katniss Everdeen or Tris Prior, but we can all relate to being acutely aware of our own shortcomings. We can all relate to imperfection. Grace is imperfect and ill-equipped to handle the obstacles she is faced with, but she handles them, anyway because she must. This is precisely what makes Grace Harrison a believable protagonist and precisely the kind of message we should be sending out to young girls; that being stereotypically unattractive does not mean your story isn’t worth telling.
“I folded myself to the ground, unable to control the shaking of my limbs. The keening grew louder, ringing in my ears. My throat felt congested and torn by tears that I could neither cry nor swallow.”
– Catherine Hughes
In keeping with Hughes’ theme of subverting young adult stereotypes, I initially thought that Catalyst was going to play out like a bad Twilight fanfic, but of course, I ended up being proven wrong. I love being proven wrong while reading a book, I might add. It means the author went in a direction I didn’t expect and that alone is enough to make a book stick out in my memory. There were certain points during the early chapters that made me roll my eyes because I expected it all to be a set up for a Twilight-esque romance between a gorgeous otherworldly male creature and a plain-Jane female human but I was handsomely rewarded for continuing to read until the end, where Hughes makes a deliberate and drastic u-turn that I doubt many other first-time authors would have had the guts to make. The sudden and merciless shock to the expected outcome of this human/alien romance dynamic filled me with utter delight, in all honesty. It was such a bold, unapologetic statement in its ruthless execution and it was then that I knew this was not your average young adult supernatural romance, nor was it ever intended to be.
“‘You are inside the South-Western dome,’ he replied. ‘We call it the Hestrian Dome.'”
– Catherine Hughes
While the overall theme of inverting popular stereotypes is all well and good, there must be more of a point to a novel than simply to be the opposite of something else. It must stand on its own and offer something unique to the reader. Hughes doesn’t disappoint in this area, either. Elements of the supernatural and dystopian settings are nothing new to the young adult genre, but Hughes finds her niche within the sphere of sci-fi. Her scientific approach to a well-known myth that has traditionally been treated as something from the world of the paranormal is what makes Catalyst stand out from the crowd among its genre. The Seristalya alien race itself is well thought out. Everything from their culture to their technology has been developed with great attention to detail which is what makes the world Grace lives in come alive. It is also what makes Catalyst different from other popular young adult series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, though I expect fans of such series would also enjoy Catalyst. It’s an exciting read with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing at what’s going to happen until the very end. All in-depth analysis aside, that’s really what a work of fiction should be delivering; a good, engaging story that keeps you turning the pages until the very end.
Overall, I give Catalyst a rating of 4 stars out of 5. The only real criticism I had of the book that kept me from rating it a solid 5 was the pacing. There were times where I felt like some of the characters developed a little too quickly or too slowly to seem natural and there were a few plot points that I felt could have been paced a little better. Some action-heavy scenes felt slightly rushed which I’m sure was intended to build up excitement in the reader but came across as more awkward than tension-building. I feel it’s important to note here that pacing is highly subjective on the part of the reader. It either feels right or it doesn’t. For me, certain points just didn’t feel right, but this feeling of awkward pacing only struck me as being apparent less than a handful of times during the book. If there was a frequent, recurring problem with plot and character development pacing, it escaped my notice because I was too engrossed in the action-packed, immersive story.
Would I recommend Catalyst? Undoubtedly yes. I think any young adult fiction reader looking for something different that doesn’t follow the same tired tropes we’ve grown weary of will appreciate having this in her Kindle library.