Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

inside-the-obriens“From the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice Lisa Genova comes a powerful and transcendent new novel about a family struggling with the impact of Huntington’s disease.

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.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.” – Publisher Summary

May I ask you a question, dear readers? Exactly how much do you know about Huntington’s Disease? If you are like most people, your answer will be, “not much.” Well. If  you are planning on reading Inside the O’Briens, that is about to change. In her latest release, Harvard-educated neuroscientist and award-winning author Lisa Genova paints a sensitive yet realistic portrait of one man’s battle with Huntington’s Disease and the havoc it wreaks on both himself and his family of six.

The O’Briens could easily be the family next door. Living in a strong Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Boston for years, Joe and Rosie have been married since age eighteen and have four adult children: JJ, Patrick, Meghan, and Katie. The entire family, along with JJ’s wife, lives in the gigantic three-story brick walk-up that has been in Joe’s family for generations. While Patrick has been just drifting along, JJ and his wife, Colleen, are trying to start a family; Meghan is a dancer with the Boston City Ballet, and Katie is a Yoga instructor. Joe himself has had a successful career as a police officer, and identifies strongly with his job. Their everyday family life veers strongly off course, however, when Joe is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. To make matters worse, more bad news follows: there is a fifty percent chance that each one of his children will have inherited the disease as well.

The brilliance of Genova’s writing lies in sharing her medical expertise in a way that is knowledgeable yet understandable, via characters who are easy to relate to. Through Inside the O’Briens, we experience the realities of living with Huntington’s  – from both sides of the disease. We witness the shock of diagnosis, followed by Joe’s gradual decline that slowly robs him of his independence, and the reality that the four siblings face knowing that this, too, may easily be their own fate. While JJ, Patrick, and Meghan are all confident in their decisions whether or not to find out if they are gene positive for HD, Joe’s youngest daughter, Katie, is wracked with guilt, anxiety and uncertainty.

At the beginning of each new section of the novel, Genova has placed medical information about Huntington’s Disease; this allows readers to gain even more knowledge of the relatively unknown disease in addition to what they glean from the reading of the novel itself. Inside the O’Briens is a very sensitive and emotional portrayal of the realities of living with HD. Readers will be captured from the beginning of this tale until the very, breathtaking end.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova: On sale now!

4 stars

Source: Gallery/Threshold/Pocket Books {via NetGalley}

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