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Samantha's Top Shelf Pick: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

"If it wasn't for the fact that I have colleagues, office life would be bearable." - Susan Green, The Cactus

Sarah Haywood’s debut novel, The Cactus, is a witty, touching and endearing British novel that I’ve been eager to add to our Top Shelf collection. It’s one of Reese Witherspoon’s picks for the Hello Sunshine Book Club and it will soon be a Netflix original movie starring Reese herself!

The story follows the main character, Susan Green, as she grapples with impending first-time motherhood in her mid-forties while caught up in an inheritance legal battle with her impulsive and immature brother, Edward. Susan’s independent, no-nonsense and prickly personality is entertaining from start to finish. She handles these life-changing and challenging issues the only way she knows how -- with control and relentlessness. The co-parenting agreement she and her baby’s father, Richard, come to is hilarious and in complete character. I laughed out loud!

With a cast of lively, well-written and humorous characters, most notably her close family and friends, I found myself eagerly turning pages to learn how Susan would prevail. Haywood writes this story so that the readers learn about Susan’s life, both past and present, through flashbacks which help paint a clear picture of her. Moreover, readers intimately experience Susan’s journey toward motherhood and legal closure as she discovers unpredictable and unexpected truths about her family and herself.

In the midst of these growing personal conflicts, Susan finds fortuitous companionship with Rob; someone she would have pegged early on as a nemesis due to his friendship with Edward. At first I found Susan unlikeable and rigid, but Haywood’s detailed character development is a testament to her thoughtful writing. I was invested in Susan’s story and I enjoyed watching her experience personal growth and transformation.

I delightfully recommend The Cactus. It covers many topics -- death, alcoholism, sibling rivalry, pregnancy, divorce, adoption, single parenthood and love, to name a few. It’s a poignant story laced with entertaining British humor and a never-ending appearance of colorful and enjoyable characters. I’m looking forward to experiencing this story again -- on Netflix!

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