Author: Lisa Genova
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
I already mentioned a few days ago how much I enjoyed Inside the O'Briens. If you've read any of Genova's other novels, you know that she does an excellent job of humanizing neurological disorders--bringing them to life through stories of (fictional) families forced to deal with the diseases' consequences in the everyday details of life. That was certainly the case in this book as well. Before reading, I already knew the "textbook" definition of Huntington's disease, but Inside the O'Briens opened my eyes to the devastating effects that this condition has not only on the person who has been diagnosed, but on all of their family and friends.
I like that Genova chose someone like Joe O'Brien as a protagonist, as well. He's kind of a macho guy--police officer, patriarch of a large Irish family, doesn't really wear his emotions on his sleeve, and not real concerned about his health in general. Not someone who might have coping mechanisms already in place for a disease like Huntington's--much less know what it is. Watching him navigate his diagnosis, as well as its implications for his family, is heartbreaking. Genova develops his character with amazing heart.
As much as I liked this book, I did feel that it dragged in some parts. The narrative jumps back and forth between Joe and his youngest daughter Katie (who is trying to decide if she wants to do genetic testing to reveal if she will eventually get Huntington's). Both Joe and Katie spend a lot of time wrestling with their internal dialogue. For Joe, it's figuring out how he will cope with the disease as he gets sicker, and how he can best support his family. For Katie, it's deciding if she should be tested, and if so, what that means for her future. While their respective journeys of self-discovery do progress over time, I often felt like they got a bit repetitive and "stuck", debating the same points over and over. I don't say that to lessen the importance of their struggles, but as a reader, it did slow the plot down quite a bit at times.
That said, the strong emotions and family struggles in this book absolutely outweighed the concerns I had about the slow movement of the plot. This is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in familial drama, neurological disorders, or who just plain wants a good tug on the heartstrings.
**Lisa Genova is encouraging all readers of her book to donate to the Huntington's Disease Society of America, to further research into treatment and a cure for the disease. Please check out THIS LINK if you're interested!
Have you read any of Lisa Genova's novels? Has your life been affected by a family member with a neurodegenerative disorder?