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The Cactus

Review

The Cactus

THE CACTUS is a beautifully crafted story filled with hope and tenderness. It’s a touching, thoughtful debut exploring family relationships, the nature of motherhood, and the value in letting ourselves be vulnerable.

Susan Green is a rigid, standoffish rule follower who feels safely in control of her life and future until an unexpected turn knocks over the first domino, challenging her to question everything she believed to be true. Sarah Haywood takes the reader on Susan’s journey from an uncompromising, prickly and insulated cactus to a joyful flower opening to life’s possibilities. As the cover tagline says: It’s never too late to bloom.

"THE CACTUS is a beautifully crafted story filled with hope and tenderness. It’s a touching, thoughtful debut exploring family relationships, the nature of motherhood, and the value in letting ourselves be vulnerable."

Emotional and full of humanity, I found myself chuckling out loud at Susan’s thoughts, language and actions; she has a humor of which she’s unaware. I completely adored her even when I was shaking my head or rolling my eyes at her decisions and logic. As her story unfolds and we learn more about her childhood and upbringing, we are better able to understand her way of being in the world and to empathize.

Fiercely feminist and independent to a fault, Susan and her transformative story show us that true character shines through during life’s biggest changes and surprises. I appreciated the friendship and discussions between Susan --- with her hard-and-fast, unwavering definition of feminism and her need for control --- and her neighbor, Kate. Bit by bit, Kate infiltrates Susan’s defenses and helps her step out of her regimented box. She and an unlikely ally, Rob, walk alongside Susan as she confronts extreme conflict with her brother, the alcoholism and tumult of her past, and a secret that was never intended to be exposed.

THE CACTUS is richly layered with generosity and avarice, birth and death, compromise and obstinacy. We experience the push and pull within families, both nuclear and extended, and the pursuit, whether accidental or intentional, toward self-acceptance.

For writers, THE CACTUS is a fantastic study in creating memorable, distinctive characters and in developing their growth and arc toward transformation. The characters’ goals and motivations are clear and in conflict with one another while being soundly rooted in their backstory, which offers readers empathy and understanding. It underscores the relevancy in real life of having compassion for others across circumstances. One never knows what is held deep within or what pushes someone to act in a particular manner.

While distinct and wonderful in its own right, THE CACTUS is reminiscent of Gail Honeyman’s ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. Both give us wholly curious, original characters to remember long after the last page is turned.

I truly loved this story and can recommend it without reservation. As a bonus, the cover is gorgeous.

Reviewed by Leah DeCesare (www.leahdecesare.com) on May 11, 2018

The Cactus
by Sarah Haywood

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Park Row
  • ISBN-10: 0778318990
  • ISBN-13: 9780778318996