This month we’re examining four books that focus on the theme Sense of Place. Having a sense of home or belonging is something humans value almost as much as family. The books selected for this month center around characters who find that special sense of place, or have to leave their longtime place and find a new one. This week’s selection is Insignificant Events In the Life of a Cactus.
MICHELE: The stories we read often deal with serious life circumstances and contain heavy issues. Although Insignificant Events In the Life of a Cactus deals with overcoming the mental and emotional struggle that accompany physical challenges, I enjoy the lighter tone and positive outlook the main character demonstrates. For me, the mystery in the plot also provides an element of surprise and satisfaction.
The main character, Aven Green, is an adolescent and at a very sensitive and important developmental time in life for any child. She was born without arms and must leave the comfort of her Kansas hometown and firmly established friendships. She moves to a completely unfamiliar place and must establish a new sense of place in “Stagecoach Pass,” a western-themed amusement park in the harsh environment of the Arizona desert.
With supportive and nurturing parents who teach her how to live independently and have a strong sense of who she is, Aven is able to overcome many obstacles that can accompany physical challenges. It isn’t always easy for Aven and there are moments of self-doubt and anxiety. However, she is able to make new friends and show them how she accepts her situation and lives a full and happy life without arms. This inspires them to come out of the shadows and face life, helping them address their own insecurities.
Even though there were times when I was surprised by the depth of Aven’s strength, I did find her spirit heartwarming. I think it can provide hope and satisfaction for young readers. In relation to this month’s theme, sense of place, I do think even if Aven had a deep and meaningful connection with Stagecoach Pass, she shows that one can create a positive sense of place wherever one goes.
YOO KYUNG: This story made me think of the meaning of places people define as a sense of belonging. The protagonist Aven Green feels happy and comfortable with the fact that she was born armless when she is in Kansas. Her school friends and community know who Aven Green is beyond her embodiment. In Kansas, she enjoys her life when she can make lots of fiction stories telling how she ends up not having arms because she trusts the knowledge the community has about Aven Green. Being armless is one of many things about Aven at her school. Yet things change when Aven’s family moves to Arizona with her father’s new position as a restaurant manager in Stagecoach Pass amusement park. She now faces the place that has no experience with Aven.
Right away Aven is the new kid with the disability or the “freak”. Doing things with her feet instead of her arms creates awkward dynamics in her AZ community. People she meets do not know how to interact with Aven when she eats, reads and does things with her feet where others use their hands. Aven isn’t certain how to interact with people who do not know her beyond the fact that she visually stands out with her armless body. Gradually, Aven creates a new sense of place with a new friend Conner, who has Tourette’s syndrome where he has no control over his abrupt barking; and Zion, who is overweight and eats lunch in a restroom because of his low self-esteem. Because Aven has such loving and supportive parents who trust and believe in her capability and power, Aven grows to be someone who reaches out to these classmates who appear not to have a sense of belonging.
This particular book shows what it feels like to lose a sense of space and also what it takes to create one. Most importantly you need to be proactive and positive about yourself and slowly make a new space with new people. Aven’s lists of seeing good and bad sides of not having arms show understanding yourself means understanding your surroundings and accepting them. I enjoy the mystery side of this book around Avon’s birth and the Cavanaughs. Discovery of the Cavanaugh’s family history displays that people’s roots can assure one’s sense of place.
Title: Insignificant Events In the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Date Published: September 5 2017