Five Steps to Happy by Ella Dove: Lose yourself in an inspirational story that will break your heart, put it back together… and make you look again at the way you live your life - book review -
If the January blues are starting to bite, lose yourself in an inspirational story that will break your heart, put it back together… and make you look again at the way you live your life.
In 2016, journalist Ella Dove suffered a catastrophic injury when she fell during a Sunday morning jog in Stratford, East London. Halfway home, she tripped, and her life changed forever.
What began as a normal day became the starting point of a traumatic journey which could have broken her spirit forever, but instead became the launch pad for a beautiful, soul-searching and cathartic debut novel.
Writing Five Steps to Happy was Dove’s way of helping her come to terms with losing her leg and facing the rest of her life as an amputee. It was a battle that would bring both mental and physical anguish… but the result is a story that uplifts the soul and provides a powerfully honest insight into what it means to suddenly become disabled.
Life changes in a heartbeat for 32-year-old struggling actress Heidi when she slips on the canal towpath on an early morning run. It took only three and a half seconds to hit the ground but it left her with a leg so badly dislocated that the blood supply was disastrously cut off.
Despite twelve hours of surgery, her leg has been amputated below the knee and she is now angry at the world, angry at herself for having taken everything for granted, and living a nightmare of pain and grief in hospital.
Unable to walk, Heidi is moved to an amputee rehabilitation centre where she feels like ‘an unwilling extra in a remake of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest... only with a lot more wheelchairs,’ and discovers that her only room-mate is Maud, an 82-year-old who, despite losing her leg, can still joke about being run over by a bin lorry.
But Heidi misses her flatmate, her life, her freedom, and is trying to get her head around the fact that from now on, everyone she meets will only know her as disabled. Fortunately, Maud turns out to be a font of stability, humour and wisdom, and when her aloof but attractive grandson Jack pays a visit to the ward, Heidi realises that her life isn’t over just because it’s different.
It might not look like the life she dreamed of, but it’s the one she’s got, and there’s a lot she still wants to tick off her bucket list. With Jack at her side, will Heidi take the first of her five steps back to happiness, or is there still one more surprise in store?
Dove, who is now an ambassador for the Limbless Association and the London Prosthetic Centre, and regularly speaks to patients and their loved ones about trauma, delivers one of the most moving and life-affirming stories you will read this year.
At the heart of this essentially feelgood novel is the triumph of the will to overcome adversity, the importance of family and friends on the long road to recovery, and an eye-opening exploration of how society regards disability.
Inspired by Dove’s real-life experiences, Heidi’s journey back to some kind of normality is filled with tears, laughter, self-discovery and a beautifully portrayed cast of characters, from her lovable and loyal friend Dougie and the joyously funny Maud, to the adorably scruffy and dependable Jack.
Five Steps to Happy is a riveting, raw and intensely brave story, written straight out of the toughest of ordeals and full of acute observations. There could be no better way to herald a new decade, and to kick-start a fresh new way of looking at the world.
(Trapeze, paperback, £7.99)