Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

Sterling. (Life of a Cactus: Bk. 2). Sept. 2019. 320p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454933298.
Gr 5 Up–In this sequel to Bowling’s well-received middle grade debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, we return to spunky, armless heroine Aven’s life—this time for the start of high school. Aven was nervous enough, but since her best friend Connor moved 30 miles away, she is even more anxious about starting in a new school with thousands of new faces. She has already dealt with students pretending to high-five her and staring openly at her “lack of armage.” Will Aven be able to maintain her usual sense of humor and bright optimism? Readers familiar with the young girl and her world will relish the opportunity to see more of her friends: especially gentle and sensitive Zion whose parents started a comic book store, and home-schooled Trilby, whose effervescent energy and punk-rock sensibility mirror Aven’s own. There is less of a focus on Aven’s coping mechanisms in this sequel, and more of a natural, authentic shift towards highlighting her emotional changes and of those of her friends and family. Standing up to bullying, making room for long-distance friendships, and coping with an elderly friend’s diminishing health are all challenges that many young readers will find familiar. Bowling deftly weaves the strands of difficult issues into a solid narrative with a punk-rock thread of humor and heart throughout.
VERDICT A well-executed sequel written with humor and empathy, set in high school but perfect for upper elementary and middle school readers already familiar with the series. New readers are recommended to read the first book to fully appreciate the nuances of Aven’s relationships.

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