________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 16 . . . . December 16, 2011


Catalyst. (Saga of the Radicals, Bk. 1).

Matti McLean. Illustrated by Davyd Oram.
Nanaimo, BC: Brighter Books, 2011.
239 pp., pbk., hc. & eBook, $15.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.), $9.95 (eBook).
ISBN 978-0-9865555-8-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-9865555-9-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-927004-06-9 (eBook).

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4



He didn’t clue into what was going on until he began to feel the heat. At first, it was like placing his entire body gently above a stove, but then the heat began to intensify at such a rapid pace that within seconds it was scorching his skin. The blast came next. It was a blast of energy so intense that Micah was flung from his feet and sent flying through the air, hitting the house on the other side of the road. Finally, the shrapnel came and pummeled Micah through like bullets. He yelled as a shard of glass ripped through the air, and embedded itself in his face. Micah lay collapsed against the side of the house like a rag doll.

Full of intrigue, suspense, fantasy, and danger, Catalyst is a thrilling beginning to the “Saga of the Radicals” series. This first novel by Matti McLean is a lively romp through the changing world of a young man named Micah. Micah has a job, a house, and a few people he might go so far as to call friends. But all of that changes one night when he finishes his work past curfew, ends up being followed by a policeman, and finds his existence suddenly intertwined with the agenda of the Radicals, a mysterious and enigmatic group of group of social rebels.

      McLean’s descriptions are vivid and full of life, grasping for attention from the reader within the first few sentences. Being the first part of a series of books, there are a lot of questions left unanswered by the end of Catalyst, but I must admit I was hoping for a bit more depth in the main characters in this first installment. Micah is a great character, revealing an immaturity reminiscent of 1984’s Winston Smith; however, his protestations and whiney demeanor begin to get tiresome after a while, and one can’t help but wish he would pull himself together. This sort of characterization, however, does fit within the constructed world of the book which is rife with characters that have very hollow lives and are not at all used to navigating life on their own.

      The plot of McLean’s book is complex and full of wonderful twists and turns, leaving one unsure of everyone’s allegiances and intentions. Who is Micah supposed to trust? Is he really supposed to follow and obey the commands of a mysterious man in black who appears out of nowhere and tells him his is in terrible danger? Or does he trust Leon, the sharp and inquiring official who seems to be saving his life on occasion? Micah’s mistrust of everyone is an element of the novel that leads to his immaturity and confusion, giving at least some reasons for his somewhat whiney personality. Or perhaps it is just because he is a teenager?

      This dystopian thriller is one that will likely draw in many young middle school and early high school readers who enjoy mystery and suspense. And the illustrations don’t hurt either, bringing in an added dimension at each chapter break. The writing is fluid and imaginative, the descriptions vivid, and the plot quick and intense. McLean has written a wonderful debut novel which I can only see getting better with each additional part of the saga.

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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