By Mary Fahrenbruck, PhD, New Mexico State University and Prisca Martens, PhD, Towson University.
This is the first installment of March’s MTYT, Mary and Prisca discuss the middle grade novel Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Author Dusti Bowling incorporates desert scenes of Arizona and a genetic disorder within a well-rounded story of everyday life and mystery.
The most important things to know about Aven Green are:
1. She plays soccer
2. She loves math
3. She has her own blog
4. She plays the guitar
5. She is mind-blowingly flexible
6. She used to have best friends named Emily and Kayla
7. She now has best friends named Connor and Zion
8. She lives in a western-themed amusement park
9. She has a wicked sense of humor
10. She has a can-do attitude.
These hobbies and characteristics might seem ordinary. However, they become extraordinary when readers learn Aven has a rare genetic disorder and was born without arms. Since she was adopted at age two, Aven’s parent’s insisted she learn to do things for herself. As a result, Aven is an upbeat, problem-solving middle schooler who uncovers the mystery of the missing photo at Stagecoach Pass Amusement Park.
MARY: I so enjoyed reading Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. The protagonist, 13-year-old Aven, is well-developed and believable. I can envision Aven as a student in my own classroom. I heard Dusti Bowling speak at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 10, 2018, on how she developed the character of Aven. Dusti told us about a relative who lost an arm while serving in the military. Dusti thought about the everyday tasks he would struggle with like opening a jar. Then Dusti told us she came across a story featuring a mother with no arms who used her feet instead. And that’s how Aven came to be!
As a former Arizonian, I can easily picture the setting of the story, which takes place in Scottsdale, AZ. I relate to Aven when she compares the Arizona heat to the inside of a dishwasher! As Aven practices soccer in the evening, I also waited to go outside until the temperature dropped after the sun set.
PRISCA: I enjoyed this book, too! I love Aven from the start! She is confident, optimistic, strong and seems unfazed without arms. And yes–after living in Arizona, I also relate to surviving summer’s heat! The descriptions of Aven accomplishing everyday tasks like getting dressed, eating, etc., are amazing. She makes me aware of how minor the things I complain about are! She also has a tender heart. I am struck by how she reaches out to Connor and is so understanding about his Tourette syndrome.
MARY: Aven is certainly amazing, but I appreciate that her genetic disorder isn’t Bowling’s focus, but one of many threads woven into the story. I am equally concerned with Connor’s struggles with Tourette’s, Aven’s struggles to make friends at her new school and the parents’ efforts to revive Stagecoach Pass. I am also intrigued by the mystery of the missing photo and when Henry calls Aven a Cavanaugh, the last name of the park’s owner. When I think about it, there seems to be several threads running through this story. Nonetheless, Bowling expertly weaves them together into a coherent story readers will enjoy.
Title: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
This is the first installment of March’s issue of My Take Your Take. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!