Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus


Publication Date: 1 Aug. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781454943358

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    High School. Two words that struck fear into the heart of every armless middle schooler I knew. Which was me. And like two people online.

    This sequel to the critically acclaimed Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, now in paperback, follows Aven Green as she confronts yet another challenge: high school. Just as Aven starts to feel comfortable in Stagecoach Pass, with her friends and schoolmates accustomed to her lack of 'armage,' everything changes once again. She's about to begin high school... with 3,000 new kids to stare at her. And no matter how much Aven tries to play it cool, nothing prepares her for the reality. In a year filled with confusion, humiliation, and just maybe love, can Aven manage to stay true to herself?

    Information

    Book Type: Junior High
    Age Group: 13 years +
    Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
    Class Novel: No
    Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
    Literary Rating: 4.5/5

    Review

    After moving to Arizona with her adoptive parents the previous year to run the Stagecoach Pass amusement park, Aven was worried she wouldn't make friends due to her limb difference. Aven was born without arms and uses her feet for dexterity. Now Aven is starting high school and is missing her friend Connor, who is attending another high school thirty minutes away where his father lives. At least she has Zion, the third of their trio, to help her. But with three thousand kids in her new school, Aven isn't so worried about fitting in as much as she is about standing out.

    Aven attracts the interest of Joshua, but Zion tells Aven that Joshua bullied him in middle-school by calling him "Lard-on'.

    Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Aven is friendly towards Joshua and they hang out at the mall while Zion and Aven look for Comic-Con costumes. Joshua leans in to kiss Aven but then pulls away, saying it's "too gross' as his friends look on laughing. Aven is humiliated and skips school for the next few days.

    Aven is incredibly hurt by the incident and asks Zion not to tell anyone.

    Connor suspects something is wrong with Aven, but she denies this. Aven is jealous of Connor spending time with Amanda, a girl at his new school who also has Tourette's Syndrome. Zion's family invite Aven to attend the local Comic-Con with them. She struggles to pick a costume and hurriedly chooses the Armless Tiger Man, a super-villan with a terrible reputation. At the convention, Aven picks a verbal fight with boys staring at her.

    Aven has a crush on Lando, Zion's popular older brother. Lando is friendly and caring towards Aven but she is afraid of being embarrassed again and asks him to leave her alone. Zion, Aven and Trilby--the homeschooled girl who runs the smoothie shop at the park--attend the homecoming dance, and Aven is dreading the embarrassment of not being able to do the classic "YMCA' dance. She runs away from the dance when Joshua teases her by blowing a kiss and is comforted by Lando. Lando ends up quitting the football team when he finds out what Joshua, his fellow team member, did to Aven. Aven admits the bullying to the football coach and gets Lando to rejoin the team.

    Throughout the book, Aven begins to question who her birth father is. Henry, who runs the ice-cream parlour, confesses that he is also an orphan and doesn't know if he has any family. Aven's parents buy her a "Find My Family' DNA testing kit, but she ends up using it on Henry. After Henry has a stroke, he is reunited with his long lost brother. Henry chooses to stay in Arizona, rather than returning to Chicago with his brother, having found his family in the people of Stagecoach Pass.

    It's Aven's goal to jump her horse Chili, and she finally works up the courage to try it, only to fall off half way. She is fine, barring a slight concussion. She gets back on the horse, literally, and attempts another jump.

    This is a follow on to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and follows Aven story as she leaves primary school behind and enters high school, but is also thoroughly enjoyable and readable in its own right. Told with humour, this book focuses on the momentous--the moments that shape who Aven wants to become. Aven's limb difference is both at the forefront of her story, in the way that it affects how she does everyday things and how people treat her, and also in the background: a secondary thought to the normal teenage struggles of friendships and crushes.

    A fantastic window into the lived experience of disability that is also a universal story about standing up to the things-- sometimes of our own making-- that stop us from being our authentic selves.

    Themes

    disability and difference, adoption, family, limb difference, friendship, self-acceptance, punk music, desert, animals, comics


    Content Notes

    1. Aven jokes exaggeratedly with Zion about making out when they are trying on the halloween masks (p. 87). Aven thinks Joshua is going to kiss her in the food court but he backs out and she realises it was a dare (p.92). Lando kisses Aven in a public, dramatic scene where they are playing superheroes (p.277). Lando and Aven are not confirmed as dating and it's implied that Connor has a crush on Aven (p.295). 2. Zion recalls Joshua making a fatphobic remark to him ("Fat Fanboy Freak") and bullying him (p.89). 3. Aven cosplays as the Armless Tiger Man, and the others are shocked--they tell her he is a cannibal and Nazi within the comic lore. This is played for humour in the novel, and it's clear Aven didn't know the history of the character. When she finds out, she immediately changes (p.159). 4. Spaghetti the llama dies (p.240).

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