13-year-old Aven Green loved her life in Kansas. She had lots of friends and no one treated her differently because she didn’t have arms.
But one day, her father receives an invitation from Joe Cavanaugh – a mysterious person they had never met – to manage Stagecoach Pass, an aging Western-themed amusement park in Arizona.
“Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” by Dusti Bowling is a very intriguing book that shows that people with disabilities are able to overcome challenges and do amazing things. The author was inspired to write this book after her cousin lost his arm during military service in Iraq 10 years ago.
“I also discovered during that time that there were no children’s books that I could find that had characters with limb differences,” Bowling explains. “I thought that was really, really sad.”
In the book, Aven soon finds herself starting her life all over again. Everyone avoids her because of her lack of arms, and whenever they talk to her it’s to ask what happened to them.
Aven had experienced this before, but she would normally tell funny and obviously fake lies about her arms. However, this time she didn’t feel like telling people that she had been in an alligator wrestling match, in a wildfire in Tanzania, or had saved a puppy tied to a train track.
While exploring the outskirts of the old park, Aven encounters a large cactus. She is intrigued by it and visits it as often as she can (calling it a show-off for its seven large arms).
“Aven’s thinking that it’s probably 200 years old and she’s thinking about all the things that would have happened in the saguaro’s life,” Bowling explains. “So she thinks, ‘I shouldn’t really feel so bad about all this hard stuff I’m going through because really, I’m an entirely insignificant event in the life of this cactus.’”
She and her parents never meet Joe Cavanaugh, and Aven discovers that nearly every trace of him and his family at Stagecoach Pass have been removed, as though they suddenly disappeared along with almost all evidence of them ever being there.
Aven makes friends with Connor, a boy who everyone makes fun of for having Tourette’s Syndrome. Together they find an old building in the theme park that might explain what happened to the Cavanaughs.
“I was inspired to include Connor in the story because my husband and two of my daughters have tic disorders,” says Bowling. “I just wanted there to be a character who would be able to provide a better representation of Tourette’s Syndrome.”
Aven, Connor, and their new friend Zion try to solve the mystery. They find a lot of clues in the building and around Stagecoach Pass, including a turquoise necklace and a lot of tarantula drawings.
Aven learns that she and her family might have already met Joe Cavanaugh, and that he is closer to her than she thinks. She also learns that she’s nowhere near being unimportant – even without arms.
“Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” is a great story for everyone, especially for kids who have disabilities. It made me think about what the lives of people with disabilities are like in a completely new way. “It’s really targeted for ages 8 to 12-ish, but I do think that it has wide appeal,” Bowling says. “Adults seem to enjoy it as well.”