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  • Writer's pictureAlaina

Staff Review: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

I've been eyeballing Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling since it made the 2018/2019 Maine Student Book Award list. Every time I would re-shelve it at the library, I would think: What a weird title! Is the author's name really Dusti Bowling? (Fun fact: it is!). What is this book even about? After literal years of wondering, I decided it was time to give this book a shot. I'm so glad that I did, but, at the same time, disappointed with myself for waiting so long. I expected this book to be good (books that make the MSBA list always are), but I never dreamed that I would fall so in love with 13-year-old Aven Green.

Let’s cut right to the chase: Aven has no arms.

If you were to ask her what happened to them, she would tell you they burned off in a wildfire in Tanzania. Or they were run over by a train after she rescued a puppy who was tied to the tracks. Or they were yanked off in a horrible trapeze accident. Honestly, though, she was just born that way.

When her parents adopted her at 2 years old, Aven was pretty much helpless, relying on others to do everything for her. Her parents wanted her to be self-sufficient and learn to think of herself as capable of meeting new challenges, so they immediately began helping her learn to use her feet as hands so she can become a “problem-solving ninja”. But when her parents are offered the chance to manage a rundown Wild West theme park called Stagecoach Pass in Arizona, Aven is faced with a new problem she isn’t sure she can solve: being the new kid in school.

Unlike her classmates in Kansas who grew up alongside Aven, the kids at Aven’s new school in Arizona have never met someone without arms before. Refusing to be stared at while she eats her lunch with her feet, Aven begins spending her lunch period in the library, where she meets Connor, another student who is trying to avoid the teases and stares of their classmates because of his Tourette’s syndrome. The two become fast friends and soon welcome a third member to their group: Zion, an overweight boy who avoids eating in the cafeteria because people make fun of his size.

When they discover a secret storage shed at Stagecoach Pass, the three friends get caught up trying to solve the many mysteries of the old park: Why did all the tarantulas in the desert disappear years ago? Why is the only photo of the mysterious park owner missing from the park display? Who owned the necklace Aven finds in the desert? Why is there a box labeled “Aven” in the old storage shed? And why does Henry, the park’s senile ice cream shop operator, believe Aven is someone named Aven Cavanaugh?

This is a story about friendship and family with a dash of mystery thrown in. Aven is kind, hilarious, and full of positive energy, and her friendship with Connor and Zion is both heartwarming and inspiring - they support one another, push each other to overcome challenges, and lift each other up when they are struggling. One of the highlights of this book is when Aven and Connor attend a TS support group, which introduces readers to the many ways that TS can affect people and the different ways each person is struggling. I was blown away by Aven’s relationship with Connor and, to a lesser degree, Zion. Aven is the kind of friend every person needs in their life. She is thoughtful and supportive and she a great role model for young readers. She is also absolutely hilarious in her blunt and honest account of life without arms and had me laughing out loud many times.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus completely blew me away and is easily one of my new favorite books. I read this book with a gigantic smile on face and a twinge of sadness in my heart because l didn't want to say goodbye to these characters. The good news, though, is that Insignificant Events is the first book in a duology - I can't wait to pick up the next book and spend more time with Aven!



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