Review: Inside the O’Briens

April 7, 2015 book review, family, fiction, Gallery Books, Lisa Genova 9

Inside the O'Briens

  • Written by:  Lisa Genova
  • Published by:  Gallery Books, April 7, 2015
  • Length:  352 pages
  • Source:  I received an advance copy of this book for review consideration.

Summary:  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)

My Thoughts:  I had read one other novel about Huntington’s Disease prior to reading this book.  I still knew very little about the disease beyond it’s inevitable devastation and death.  Lisa Genova has once again given a face and heart to a disease that impacts the the brain and that we as a society need to know more about.

As I read about Joe O’Brien I was able to see him in many people I know, everyday friends and acquaintances that may be living their lives and could be suddenly struck down with HD.  I felt so much empathy for Joe, a man in his prime, hardworking, and unable to believe the diagnosis he was given.  Genova wove in a story about Joe’s mother, a woman who was believed to be an alcoholic and sent to a mental hospital to spend her last years, withering away.  Joe is able to see what his mother was now suffering with, able to trace this inherited disease.

We have glimpses into all of Joe’s children, each managing this news differently.  Questions of whether to be tested or not, how being positive will impact their futures.  Katie is the one we learn most about.  Her feelings of being in limbo are understandable.  Her family has always been right there in Charlestown, they all live in a 3 family house, she shares the top unit with her sister.  Being an Irish Catholic townie is who she is, and yet she wants to take risks and leave that safe haven, but how will her family feel when they learn about her dreams, and the man she’s fallen in love with?  Can she give herself to him with a 50% chance of developing HD herself one day?

This is a beautifully written novel about an awful disease and how it can impact a family.  Genova leaves no stone unturned as she weaves the medical details with the emotions of this family.  My heart broke for Joe, his wife Rosie, and their children.  Joe who had little religious faith gained some back, while Rosie who was devout began to question how God could let this kind of thing happen.  The author’s familiarity with Boston and it’s neighborhoods brings a comfortable feel to the setting of this book.

To those who have read and loved Lisa Genova‘s prior books this one won’t let you down, and to those who’ve not had the pleasure, pick up Inside the O’Briens, and keep the tissues handy.  Highly recommend.

9 Responses to “Review: Inside the O’Briens”

  1. Sarah's Book Shelves

    I’d like to read this one. I loved the similar medical aspect and the impact on the family in We Are Not Ourselves, so I think this would appeal to me. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. ondbookshelf

    Just picked this one up today! Even though I’m familiar with Genova’s books, I’m glad to hear this one is true to her fabulous story telling ability.

  3. litandlife

    Sounds very powerful and informative but it feels like Genova already explored the subject of whether or not children will want to have genetic testing to see if they are carrying potentially harmful genes in Still Alice. Not that it’s not something the children would deal with in this story.

    • Anita

      There is a big difference in predicting Alzheimer’s as opposed to the reality that each child of a person with HD had a 50% chance of having he gene and it can be detected accurately with a simple blood test. I can’t even imagine the paradox of having that type of choice to make.

  4. Sarah C.

    I really enjoyed Ms. Genova’s book Left Neglected and this one looks just as good. I love how she makes these people’s lives more relatable; we’re all still just people, disease does not change who we are.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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