Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Inside the O'Briens

Summary: 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. -- Gallery

I'm  still trying to catch up on reviews and it doesn't seem like I'm making much headway. The latest book that has been sitting in my finished pile since late June is INSIDE THE O'BRIENS by Lisa Genova. I read this novel while I was vacationing in the Outer Banks, and it is probably the most memorable book I read during that week. I absolutely loved this novel.

INSIDE THE O'BRIENS tells the story of Joe O'Brien, a man who is diagnosed with the neurological disorder called Huntington's disease. It also shows the devastating effects this diagnosis has on his entire family. Joe is a 44 year old cop, husband, and father of four adult children who lives in the Boston suburb and Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Joe is a respected police officer and devoted husband and father who starts showing signs that something isn't quite right. He has outbursts of temper, disorganized thinking and involuntary muscle movements. When he receives the diagnosis of the rare, but fatal, Huntington's disease, the lives of the entire O'Brien family are turned upside down.

I thought INSIDE THE O'BRIENS was an excellent novel. I was riveted to the story and became fully entrenched in the lives of the O'Brien family. There were parts of this novel that made me laugh and many more parts that made me cry. Overall, I think this book resonated with me like few books do... which is rather ironic considering that the characters and their experiences are totally foreign to me.

I appreciated many things about this novel, but what I think I appreciated the most was how Ms. Genova brought these characters to life and put a name to such a horrible disease. Joe was the patriarch of this big family and he represented strength and stability to this family, so when he was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, it was a major strike to his wife and children. The way the author portrayed Joe and how he handled the decline in his body was well done and so very realistic to me.

In addition to dealing with Joe's diagnosis, the odds of carrying on the disease to his children was 50%. The children not only had to face that their father was slowly dying in a horrible way, but that they had to decide if they wanted genetic testing to see if they were carrying the gene. Knowing, or not knowing, whether they were potential victims to Huntington's would affect many of their future decisions. Just imagine how terrifying it would be to first wonder if you had it and then to know that there was a good chance that you were going to die from this disease.

I also appreciated how the author brought Joe and his wife and his children to life. I already mentioned how well she portrayed Joe, but I also thought she did a wonderful job with Joe's wife. She was a strong woman but the stress of taking care of Joe and worrying about her children was all consuming. My heart broke for her over and over again in this novel. In addition, I liked how Joe's four adult children all handled things very differently. I think the various ways they dealt with their dad's declining health and their decision to have genetic testing really hit home to me just how much the after shocks of this diagnosis changed everyone's lives.

There is no doubt that this book was not an easy read for me. I cried often and had a nervous stomach for so much of the story. What happened to the O'Brien family could happen to any of our families, and in many ways, it was a wake-up call for me. This novel showed how precious life is, but it was also a reminder not to take our health for granted. In addition, I loved how Joe eventually lived with his disease. (Notice I used the word "lived.") He showed his family what it means to live with a fatal disease with dignity, and that was the best gift he could give to his loved ones.

Like all of Ms. Genova's books, INSIDE THE O'BRIENS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with sixteen questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include grief, loss, marriage, faith, and family. In addition, there are many beautiful themes you could explore life, dance, freedom, and control (or lack thereof!)

I loved INSIDE THE O'BRIENS and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds terrific! I like the way she brings attention to diseases and shows how they affect the whole family.

Stacie said...

I really loved this book too. My only frustration was with the ending. I felt like she was building up to revealing the decision only to leave the reader hanging. But, she has done that before so I should have been prepared. I could see this being a movie too!

Dorothy N said...

I really loved this book and your excellent review was spot-on, as usual.

Vicki said...

This book has been on my list to read for a while. Glad to know you liked it so much!

Beth F said...

This is on my list too, but thought it would be too emotional for me earlier in the summer. I'll give it a shot this fall.

Hillary said...

This sounds really good. I will put it on my TBR list.

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...
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ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

This sounds great. Have you read her book Love Anthony? It's about autism. I loved it. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Debra Messing (Grace and Will and Grace). She's fantastic. Anyway, I'll have to read this one!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I thought this one was very good too. When I seen you reviewed it here I had to go and make sure I wrote my review back in June... I thought maybe I forgot but no, it's there! :)