Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (2017)

InsignificantA smart and hilarious voice sets this apart from other books in its genre.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:   262 (for ISBN 9781454923459)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, humor, mystery, ability diverse

Tone/Style: blunt, humorous

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: differently-abled people, theme parks, moving, making friends, new experiences

Themes: perseverance, independence, family, being different, friendship

Summary: Aven Green gets that question a lot. She loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined.

It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Aven has a compellingly honest and witty voice, and it’s hard not to fall in love with her. Hand this book to readers who want a fresh and positive new perspective on the world.

Who won’t like this book?: Character outweighs plot in a big way.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to your traditional mystery fan, as the mystery feels like more of a subplot, and it doesn’t play out in such a way that the reader can follow along and put together clues.

Other comments: Aven makes one friend who has Tourette’s syndrome and one who struggles with body image, so the book shows a few variations on the “being different” theme.

Sequel(s): In response to a user question on Goodreads, the author says a sequel is forthcoming in 2019.

Readalikes: A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel is another book about a funny, differently-able middle schooler facing challenges when moving to a new place. (See also its related book, A Blind Guide to Stinkville.) The Wonder crowd should like this, though it’s on the whole lighter and funnier than Wonder. James Patterson’s I Funny books also take a humorous tone in a story about being differently-abled.

-Kylie Peters

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