A Story About Friendship And Family

by | Aug 11, 2018

Aven Green, the main character in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, (by Dusti Bowling, published by Sterling), happens to have been born without arms. But this story is not about Aven’s armlessness per se. It is, at its heart, a story of friendship and family.

Bowling tells Aven’s story with rollicking good humor and light heartedness. When kids ask Aven what happened to her arms, she delights in telling outrageous, unbelievable stories that leave her questioners both horrified and awestruck. One involves a fire in Tanzania. Another involves an alligator wrestling match. The reader wants to befriend this funny, loyal, smart and caring young girl.

“I didn’t want anyone to pity [Aven] because of her disability or find inspiration at her expense,” Bowling told Publishers Weekly. “I also didn’t want her disability to be negative or something she had to overcome. If Aven needed to overcome anything, it was [the] major changes in her life, and dealing with other people’s perceptions and reactions.”

The story begins when Aven and her parents move from their Kansas home — the only home Aven has ever known — to a run-down, Old-West theme park in Arizona, which Aven’s parents have been hired to manage. In addition to moving to a new state, starting at a new school and looking for new friends, Aven tries to keep up with her friends back in Kansas and come up with ideas to enliven the park — to keep it in business.

She also discovers a mystery that involves tarantulas and missing people, and ultimately, something about her own story. Her new friends, each with their own issues, work together with Aven to solve the mystery.

As the parent of a child with a prosthetic leg, I loved the portrayal of Aven’s parents.

“My missing arms weren’t an issue for me or my parents. I never once heard either of them say, ….   ‘Poor Aven is so helpless without arms,’ or ‘Maybe Aven can do that one day, you know, if she ever grows some arms.’ They always said things like, ‘You’ll have to do this differently from other people, but you can manage,’ and … ‘you’re capable of anything, Aven.’”

Another fun element is the setting. I loved reading along as Aven explores the theme park, which has a gold mine, jail, movie theater, ice cream shop and more. It’s a wacky setting that contributes to the fun. In the end it’s hard to imagine this story being set anywhere else.

This book is a good reminder that people with physical differences are not as interested in those differences as you might be. They have figured out ways to deal with them. They’d rather talk about books, or movies or music … or tarantulas.  

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Alexandra the Great book cover

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