Inside the O’Briens: A Book Review

Posted April 12, 2015 by Carlisa in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Inside the O’Briens: A Book ReviewInside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
Published by Gallery Books on April 7, 2015
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Illness
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley

From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a powerful new novel that does for Huntington’s Disease what her debut Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

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.

Wow, this book was emotionally packed. It’s the story of a family struggling through a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease, a disease described as “the cruelest disease known to man.” I’m still kind of stunned by it’s beauty and emotion.

Genova has a beautiful grasp of the English language. She knows how to string together words to make a impact on the reader, to help the reader understand what the characters are going through. But in a completely real and unforced way.

Along with her language, Genova creates a family that the reader can feel real sympathy and love for. Each character is so different, each has their own hopes and fears and personalities, but they have such a strong love for each other that it’s impossible not to feel some of that love for them as the reader. The narrator follows Joe, the father with Huntington’s, and his daughter, Katie, throughout the story and I feel such a strong connection with both. I really wish I could have seen the perspectives of the other siblings or the mom as well, though. This is really my only tiff with this book. We get such a deep and raw emotions from two of the characters and then with the others, we only scratch the surface.

Basically, we follow this family, the O’Briens, as they come to terms with Huntington’s in their lives. As someone with Type 1 Diabetes, I really felt a strong connection with this story. I’ve had to come to terms with my own diagnosis and it sucked. The day of my diagnosis was probably the worst day of my life so far. But it’s a process and it’s gotten easier, mostly through the support and love I’ve received from others. Likewise the O’Briens realize what’s truly important: love and family, not a diagnosis.

Here are some of the quotes that I highlighted (don’t worry, I excluded all the ones that would give you spoilers).

People don’t forget anything, and who you’re from is as important as who you are.

Getting shot at and not running away takes bravery. Walking into a domestic dispute, breaking up a gang fight, chasing a suspect in a stolen car takes bravery. He’s not sure he’s brave enough to face year ten of Huntington’s.

To be or not to be, that is the question. And so far, the answer has been radio silence.

But the future is a fantasy. The present moment is all there is.

Every breath is a risk. Love is why we breathe.