*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.
The first thing she saw was the doper.
Ben Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he knows it.
Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done.
But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not going to be quite as easy as that.
Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard…
A Spoke in the Wheel is a love story, but it is also, and perhaps primarily, a story about learning to forgive and like yourself.
Kathleen Jowitt manages to explore issues of prejudice (our own and other people’s), assumptions we make about others on sight and shame (our own and that society aims at us), all in a way that gently educates without being preachy or losing sight of the story.
Ben is an incredibly endearing main character as he is quick to hold up his hands and accept responsibility for his faults and mistakes and willing to learn from them and try to ‘get better’. Polly appears more prickly and unreasonable at first, but the reader and Ben soon come to understand that living with chronic illness can deeply affect your perspective on life and the mask you portray to the world.
It was not specified what Ben’s childhood disability was, or which particular chronic illness Polly suffers from (probably because it doesn’t really matter and Polly would say it’s none of our business anyway!). As a reader who suffers from ME/CFS I recognised much of what she was going through and empathised greatly. I felt the depiction of chronic illness and the stigma that goes with it was realistic and sensitive, whilst avoiding the dreariness that could have resulted from such honesty.
Mainly though, regardless of drug abuse, sexual orientation or invisible illness, this story focuses on understanding, acceptance, and learning to live with oneself, and those are lessons that are universally applicable.
If I hadn’t caught her eye. If she hadn’t been a cycling fan. If I hadn’t gone on autopilot and behaved as if I was doing some charity event for disabled kids.
I used to do a lot of that, having been a disabled kid myself once. There are still pictures floating around: seven year old Ben Goddard, with brave gap-toothed grin and gleaming wheelchair, next to Ben now – or, at least, Ben last month.
And the girl in the wheelchair in the café in this run-down seaside town was impressed by none of it. She met my eye, wearing a cold, blank expression that I supposed I’d have to get used to, exchanged a glance with her friend, and then looked down at a magazine on the table. I was pretty sure that it was Cycling Monthly, which was unfortunate if I was right. There was a five-page feature on great British hopes, and I was great British hope number seven.
Well, not any more, I wasn’t.
– Kathleen Jowitt, A Spoke in the Wheel
A Spoke in the Wheel is available on Amazon right now.