Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

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Inside the O’Briens

by Lisa Genova

published by Gallery Books

April 2015

I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I loved Still Alice and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, I was really excited to read it.  I was not disappointed! Inside the O’Briens is the story of an Irish Catholic family from Boston.  Joe is a Boston cop, patrolling his hometown of Charlestown and he is married to his high school sweetheart, Rosie.  Their four children, all in their 20s, live with them on separate floors of their triple decker home.  Joe begins to have some strange symptoms he cannot explain- muscle tics, explosive rages.  When he eventually screws up at work, unable to run through drills because his legs aren’t fully under his control, a good friend reached out to Rosie with his concern. Joe promises her he will see a doctor and is shocked to learn, after genetic testing, he has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease.  This is a degenerative neurological disorder that is 100% fatal.  As if that wasn’t hard enough for Joe and Rosie, they also learn that there is a 50% chance that their children have inherited the disease.  Now the kids have to decide if they want to find out if they have the gene, which they can then pass on to their own future children.

This book reminded slightly of Still Alice, where the main character is diagnosed with an untreatable degenerative disease that could be passed on to their children.  In that book, the main character in an intellectual shoe is suffering early inset Alzheimer’s Disease.  in O’Briens, the main character is a tough as nails Irish Boston cop, who is not only losing his own ability to control his body, but is also incapable of protecting his family from the same fate.  Both are moving stories, and so informative about the disease that centers them.  I loved the O’Brien family, with their foibles and quirks.  Genova avoids making the characters stereotypical, but manages to give a real glimpse into not only the life of a Boston police officer, but also a Huntington’s patient.  The author has certainly done her research and it shows.  This is a wonderfully well written book that I definitely recommend.

To learn more about the author visit her website at –http://lisagenova.com

To learn more about Huntington’s Disease, you can visit- http://hdsa.org

Summary

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

 

 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Still Alice

by Lisa Genova

published by iUniverse

2007

My Review

Here is another book that I chose to read because I heard about the movie about to come out.  I also loved Left Neglected by this author, so I picked this to read.  I cannot believe this was Genova’s first novel.  It was wonderful.  We meet Alice Howland, a successful Harvard professor and lecturer.  She and her husband are extremely busy, flying all over the country for research, speeches, and such.  Their three grown children are out of the house and on their own (sort of).  One day, when Alice goes on her daily run, she realizes she has no idea where she is, though she has run the same way for years.  Another day, she is giving a lecture, and she completely loses a word.   Realizing something is wrong, Alice goes to a neurologist, and is shocked when her diagnosis is early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  She is only 52.  Genova then takes on a heartbreaking journey, with Alice and her family, as they grapple with their new reality.

This book, much like Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, left me shaken.  The harsh reality of this disease, especially the early onset type, is heartbreaking.  To so slowly lose yourself, or someone you love is a nightmare to me.  The only other disease that elicits this type of dread for me is ALS.  As the daughter of a parent in their 70s, I pray that this is not something I have to experience firsthand.  Genova handles this topic with honesty and compassion.  When Alice can no longer follow the story of a book, her husband John buys the movie versions of the ones she wants to read.  Her eldest Anna, make books up for Alice- with stories about each family member.  One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Anna, who is trying to get pregnant, learns she carries the gene that causes the disease, and that she can pass it on to any children she has.  With brutal honesty, Genova shows John pull away, thinking of his own career and life.

I loved this book, though I had a very unsettled feeling after reading it.

I am eager to see Julianne Moore take on the role of Alice, though I understand they moved the setting from Harvard to Columbia (WHY??)

Summary

Alice Howland—Harvard professor, gifted researcher, and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children—sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. She has taken the route for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Medical consults reveal early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Alice slowly but inevitably loses memory and connection with reality, as told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. Genova’s debut shows the disease progression through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so readers feel what she feels: a slowly building terror.

 

About the Author

978484

I’m a Harvard-trained Neuroscientist, a Meisner-trained actress, and an entirely untrained writer!

My first novel, STILL ALICE, winner of the 2008 Bronte Prize, nominated for 2010 Indies Choice Debut Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association, and winner of the 2011 Bexley Book of the Year Award spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 25 languages and was chosen as one of the thirty titles for World Book Night 2013.

Originally self-published, I sold it out of the trunk of my car for almost a year before it was bought at auction by Simon & Schuster.

To learn more, go to  http://www.lisagenova.com/

Left Neglected

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Left Neglected

by Lisa Genova

published by Gallery Books

2011

I borrowed a copy of this book from my local library.

Summary

Sarah Nickerson is like any other career-driven supermom in Welmont, the affluent Boston suburb where she leads a hectic but charmed life with her husband Bob, faithful nanny, and three children—Lucy, Charlie, and nine-month-old Linus. Between recruiting the best and brightest minds as the vice president of human resources at Berkley Consulting; shuttling the kids to soccer, day care, and piano lessons; convincing her son’s teacher that he may not, in fact, have ADD; and making it home in time for dinner, it’s a wonder this over-scheduled, over-achieving Harvard graduate has time to breathe.

A self-confessed balloon about to burst, Sarah miraculously manages every minute of her life like an air traffic controller. Until one fateful day, while driving to work and trying to make a phone call, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In the blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her jam-packed life come to a screeching halt.   

A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of her world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her, including her formerly absent mother. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future. 

Now, as she wills herself to regain her independence and heal, Sarah must learn that her real destiny—her new, true life—may in fact lie far from the world of conference calls and spreadsheets. And that a happiness and peace greater than all the success in the world is close within reach, if only she slows down long enough to notice. 

 

My Review

I honestly liked this book, even though I wasn’t into it at first.  And honestly, the timing was a little creepy.  I finished this book the day after a woman in North Carolina died when her car veered into oncoming traffic. If you haven’t heard about this yet, here is a link.  She had just seconds earlier posted on Facebook that the lyrics to the song Happy made her happy.  In this book, Sarah is so intent on getting as much work done as she can that she does almost the same- looks down at her phone while driving on the highway and veers into oncoming traffic.  While she was working and not posting on FB, both fiction and reality scare the hell out of me.  I try my best to not do this ever while behind the wheel, but it has become so prevalent in our society.  My son is taking Drivers Ed now, and will be able to drive with a permit when he turns 16 in August.  I would take diapers and spit up any day over this new reality of mine.

Back to the book- I really did enjoy it.  Lisa Genova brings us an interesting character in Sarah Nickerson.  Watching her struggle not only with this bizarre condition. but also with her changing relationship with all f her family kept me captivated in an unexpected way.  I would definitely recommend this book!