Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Review Copy Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
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.
I’ll admit that I felt like I was one of the last people in america to read Genova’s book, Still Alice – in fact, the movie had been released and Julianne Moore had already been awarded the Oscar before I even picked up the book but it just so happened that not long after I finished reading it, when I was looking at Edelweiss one day (a place that is like crack for book bloggers), I saw that review copies of her newest book, Inside the O’Brien’s were available and I totally clicked to request it (and then promptly lost the book on the virtual straggering TBD).
Anyways, I digress…my knowledge about Huntington’s Chorea is extremely limited to basically what I learnt from watching House, when one of the doctor’s who worked for him (aka Thirteen) had a mother with Huntington’s and she had to make the decision on whether she wanted to go through the genetic tests to find out if she would get it. Because as I learnt both there and while reading Inside the O’Brien’s, if you have the gene, you will get the disease, its not a case of, you have the gene, you might get it, but rather, there is a 100% likelihood that you will develop Huntington’s and that currently there is no treatment and no cure for the disease, so a death sentence. Knowing that was the ultimate outcome in Joe’s story, I was curious to see how Genova would handle it, walking a fine line between telling a story, sucking people in and not wanting to be too dramatic (for lack of a better word). so I appreciated how she approached it – essentially alternating the story from Joe’s POV and that of his youngest daughter, Katie – who is struggling to make the decision about having the testing. I split the age between Joe and Katie, so this is a book that really struck home for me, that these are decisions that many people my age, may have to face in upcoming years, especially as genetic testing becomes more and more common and ethical questions are raised?
I know that as I was reading Inside the O’Brien’s, I posted a question on my facebook page – essentially theoretically asking – if you had to make a decision about taking a genetic test like the one for HC would you and the responses that came back were interesting. If the test comes back showing you have the genetic mutation, how do you life a life you know is going to end? How do you deal with it knowing that you may have passed the gene onto your children, if you have them? (or even grandchildren)
Its hard to call a read like Inside the O’Brien’s enjoyable for the simple reason of the topics that it discusses focuses on – i found it to be thought-provoking, and made me question for thoughts and feelings about genetic testing (although I honestly, still don’t have an answer on if I would do it or not)…it was very well written, not overly complicated/difficult but solid writing. I gave it 4 stars, but it is definately a book that has stuck with me since I read it a couple of months ago.