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Thursday, April 9, 2015

2015 Book 107: INSIDE THE O'BRIENS Review

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
ISBN: 9781476717777 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781476717838 (ebook)
ASIN: B00LQMDZPI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Gallery Books


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.


The O'Briens are a typical family facing an atypical problem, Huntington's Disease. For most of patriarch Joe O'Brien's life, it was assumed that his mother was an alcoholic. Now that Joe has received a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease, he realizes that his mother died of this disease and she was not an alcoholic. Joe, his wife Rosie, and their four adult children must deal with the death sentence that is Huntington's Disease in Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova.

Joe O'Brien is a proud man, proud to be a police officer, proud to be a husband to his wife Rosie, and proud to be a father to his four children. His pride is kicked in the teeth when he receives the diagnosis of Huntington's Disease. Over the period of one year Joe has been forced to resign from the Boston Police Department, had his driver's license revoked, and been advised to legally divorce his wife in order to safeguard his pension and home. All of that might be tolerable, but it is the fact that he has passed this genetic time bomb onto his children that hurts the most.

The reader gets to spend a little more than a year with the O'Brien family. We bear witness to Joe's decline with chorea, slurred speech, gait and balance issues, and more. We also get to see the adverse impact on Joe's wife and children, especially when his eldest son is diagnosed with Huntington's disease while awaiting the birth of his first child. We witness the avoidance of Joe's youngest son Patrick, the somewhat laissez-faire attitude of his eldest daughter Meghan after her diagnosis, and the "do I - don't I" quandary of Joe's youngest daughter Katie. We see Meghan soar as a ballet dancer with the Boston Ballet, we see Rosie's crisis of faith, and we watch Katie waiver on finding out if she has the disease and if she should move cross-country with her boyfriend and the love of her life. More important that all of this is that we bear witness to the incredible impact Huntington's Disease has on a family. Inside the O'Briens isn't a happy story, but it a realistic story that deals with a disease without a cure and a hope for a better future with this disease. Yes, there are a few heart-wrenching moments in this story, but there are also moments of love and joy. I'm not sure I would have picked up Inside the O'Briens for any reason other than Ms. Genova has a way with words and paints a realistic and science-based picture of disease/illness and the impact of disease/illness on families. Don't let the disease aspect of this storyline scare you, Inside the O'Briens is an inspiring read and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Read an excerpt from Inside the O'Briens here.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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