“But, these days, fairy-tale endings come in all shapes and sizes. It’s okay for the princess to end up with the prince, it’s okay for her to end up with the footman, it’s okay for her to end up on her own. It’s also okay for her to end up with another princess, or with six cats, or to decide she wants to be a prince. None of those make her any more or less a feminist.”
Title: The Cactus
Author: Sarah Haywood
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood is everything I love in a rom-com: intriguing heroine, cute (and bonus: vegetarian) romantic interest, compelling story, humor with hints of gravity…and then some.
The Cactus in question is Susan Green. She’s hard, rational, stoic. She never lets her feelings get the best of her and, at 45, has managed to plan her life in a way that avoids unnecessary messiness. That was, of course, until she finds herself pregnant…and learns her mother died. These unfortunate circumstances aside, she knows how to handle things. She’ll read all the right books on pregnancy and motherhood, purchase the proper maternity clothes, and use her inheritance to secure a roomier place for her and her future child.
And that’s where the real problem rears its head in.
Susan’s younger brother Edward, who has never amounted to anything and instead mooched off of their recently deceased mother, is allowed to stay in their mother’s house as long as he wants, thus throwing off Susan’s inheritance entirely.
Sensible Susan knows her mother would not have written a will that benefits Edward more than her, so she sets out to prove that her mother, who had had several strokes, must have been coerced by her brother to sign the will. In her mental state, she would not have known clearly what was going on. Surely, she would never do this to her eldest child, her only daughter…
From there, we meet several characters. Susan’s neighbor, a single mother of two, becomes an unlikely ally, and so does her brother’s friend, Rob. Even annoying and self-centered Aunt Sylvia wants to help Susan as much as possible, and it isn’t for self-serving reasons either. Meanwhile, her mother’s priest is keeping secrets.
We watch Susan deal with morning sickness, train delays, the definitely-not-her-type vegetarian who may or may not be her brother’s co-conspirator. Susan goes to great lengths to prove that her brother took advantage of their mother’s mental state. After all, she did study law, so she does know a thing or two about this. She plans her case, certain she will win but learns a few life-changing things along the way.
I was first drawn to The Cactus because of its cover. That design! Those colors! However, when I actually started reading it, I wasn’t sure if this was the book for me. Susan is not only the main character but the protagonist as well, and it can be difficult being inside her head. She’s hard to penetrate and doesn’t always tell the readers the whole story…at least not right away. Susan tries to keep the readers at arm’s length, which can be frustrating.
Fortunately, the more I got to know Susan, the more I enjoyed her, especially as she learned to open up to others. I will say that her reaction to her child’s father wanting to be involved was very odd. Susan states that she wants to remain independent, but plenty of women are independent and still need help, especially if the help is coming from someone directly involved. As her neighbor suggests, plenty of women are forced to raise their children alone – Susan’s “partner” wanting to help and provide for his child would be so helpful to Susan, who struggles throughout the novel to receive the inheritance she is due.
While I wasn’t always a fan of Susan’s attitude (though I do understand why she acted the way she did: alcoholic father, dead fiance, deadbeat brother who is always favored, etc.), I absolutely loved the romance. Rob, a man who loves plants and eats them too (a vegetarian hero after my own heart!), makes a kind-hearted love interest. Despite being a friend of Susan’s brother, he wants to know Susan, wants to be her friend…and maybe a bit more. I looked forward to Susan’s interactions with Rob, whether she was riding in his work truck, making him a vegetarian lunch, or giving him a quick kiss at a New Year’s Eve party.
I’m also biased because any time there’s good veg*n representation, I get a bit giddy.
Susan turns out to be a fun character, someone who’s willing to let go of her careful and neat plans because she’s finally able to realize that how we feel is just as important, if not more so, as what we think. We can’t be proper and sensible all the time – sometimes our decisions are based on emotions, which is okay!
I really enjoyed The Cactus and am looking forward to whatever Sarah Haywood writes next!