Monday, 6 April 2015

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

...Joe O'Brien is a seasoned, respected Boston police officer, a devoted husband, and a proud father. He is only forty-four when he begins experiencing episodes of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements that lead to a devastating diagnosis: Huntington's disease. Huntington's is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe's four adult children have a 50 percent chance of inheriting it.

While watching her father's escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year old Katie struggles with whether to take a simple blood test that can reveal her future. What if she's gene positive? Does she want to know? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing? As Joe's symptoms worsen and he is stripped of his badge, he struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings seek the courage to either live a life "at risk" or learn their fate.

Review: I waited for this book to arrive in my mailbox with great anticipation. As a teen, I used to read a series of books about kids my age who were diagnosed with illnesses, most of them terminal. I adored and hated those books all at the same time. They were so passionately written, and I fell so in love with the characters that I couldn't help but keep reading them… but when the children ultimately passed away I was diminished to heaving sobs. I suppose the reason that I read those particular books as a girl were that they gave me a glimpse into a world that I was very curious about, but certainly never wanted to experience for myself.

Now, years later, I still have an unsatisfiable curiosity about the body and all the strange ailments that can accost it…. so much so that I've made a career out of helping to fix some of these medical problems.

I wanted to read Lisa Genova's book, "Inside the O'Briens" because I new it was about a family with Huntington's. I didn't know a lot about the disease, and I once again felt a morbid curiosity to know what it would be like to have it. A novel can bring to life the realities of a condition or a disease so much more than a text book that simply supplies a list of endless signs and symptoms that begin to blur into a confused mess as you try and memorize them. A novel can give a face to a disease and is able to burn an image of it into your memory forever.

After reading "Inside the O'Briens", Huntington's disease now has a face for me: Joe O'Brien. I will never have to struggle to remember what symptoms this horrible neurological condition presents with. I truly appreciate the awareness that a book like this brings to the public. Although fictional, "Inside the O'Briens" gives a window into the lives of a family cursed by this disease, and it makes you feel empathy and compassion and also gives a sense of understanding.

I found the book to be very candidly written. It was real and unshuttered. The O'Briens are a bit of a mixed up family - there is a catholic mother, the Boston cop dad, the ballerina daughter, a yoga-teacher daughter, the party animal brother, and fireman brother. Things can get a little weird and interesting when they all get together - like when the religious catholic mother sneaks condoms into her troubled son's wallet... but aren't all families a little odd? The O'Brien's are quirky and disjointed - but that's what makes them real and believable. By the end of the book I was sorry to say good-bye to them.

"Inside the O'Briens" isn't a fast moving book nor a top pick for light entertainment, but it is a good read and brings awareness about Huntington's disease. I would not recommend this book to everyone, as there is some content that would bother some readers: foul language, one of the sons lives a rough lifestyle, and there is a lead-up to a sex scene (there are no explicit sex scenes in this book though). That being said, to all non-sensitive readers I would say that this is a good, informative read.

Thank-you for the advanced copy!

This book was provided free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.

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