Seven-year-old Hanna Shelby has one big problem: everyone thinks she’s Johnny Shelby. She’s not only miserable, in 1950s rural Colorado, a boy could get killed acting even a little girlish. So, she buries her doll and tries to fit in. On her twenty-first birthday while working at the embassy in Bonn, Germany, she finds herself teetering on a bridge over the Rhine River. She realizes the risk of not being Hanna is greater than being, and returns to college in the United States presenting as a woman.
She’s disowned by her family and is fortunate to find a home with a German couple. Just as she’s feeling fully at ease in her feminine life, a man sexually assaults and flogs her almost to death. She awakens from a coma acting like a child, with nearly complete amnesia, and speaking only German.
Hanna and her adoptive family move back to Germany to build a new life. But she must confront her unresolved trauma in order to find her hidden dreams.
Although a work of fiction, Jayna Sheats thinks of Hanna's Ascent as the autobiography that could have been if she had taken a different road, and much of it comes from her own life. Hanna's Ascent takes the reader on a singular journey of persistence, survival, and a reminder that good can happen in surprising and unexpected ways.