Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

This is a book review for Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova. I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is April 7, 2015. 

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 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 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.

"Sleep is a blissfully peaceful respite from Huntington's. When Joe sleeps, there are no involuntary thrashes, wiggles, or twitches. His body lies in a normal state of slumber all night. Apparently, chorea will only tie on its tap shoes when there's an audience."

This book grabs you by the heart and just doesn't let go until the last page. The book starts with a brief description of Huntington's and the early symptoms. This section was really helpful. At first, I was slightly annoyed because it seemed as if the pacing for the book was really slow. But then I read that beginning section again. And I started to realize what Lisa Genova was subtly doing. She was showing just how gradual this awful disease is. Joe is a cop going about his daily routine. He is gruff, but is devoted to protecting his city as a cop and loves his four children. His job and his family mean everything to him. When he first starts showing symptoms, they are ones that can be easily explained: forgetfulness, clumsiness, quick temper. Considering his profession as a cop, it is easy to understand why he passed those off as stress. Despite the fact that I knew what was coming, even I kept trying to write off his symptoms and I was in as much denial as Joe. 

The only reason Joe goes to the doctor is because his wife, Rosie, convinces him that something is wrong. Joe hates doctors and is fully prepared for the doctor to tell him all the clumsiness and twitches are due to a bad knee. But his life and his family's life is changed forever when he gets the diagnosis of Huntington's disease. There was so much emotion in these pages. Joe goes through so many phases dealing with his disease; he's angry, in denial and he's even stoic at times trying to make sure his wife and kids are taken care of while he is gone. My heart broke for Rosie as she dealt with the thought of not only losing her husband, but the thought that her kids may die before her as well. The oldest son, JJ, had been trying to have a baby with his wife for a while. Their world is crushed when they realize they are pregnant just a few weeks before they realize their child has a 50/50 chance of inheriting this awful disease. Meghan is a professional dancer with the Boston Ballet and hates the thought of anything that could derail her dreams. Patrick is young and impulsive and still refuses to settle down. None of it is fair and this family showed way more faith and courage than I would have. Even with Joe dying, he still believed in God and still prayed on a regular basis. I do admire that. 

The author also writes from the point of view of one of the daughters, Katie. She is young and just starting out in a new relationship. She is in love with Felix, but isn't sure if she wants to saddle him with someone who has this disease. Katie is the youngest and the one who struggles the hardest with the decision on whether to take this genetic test. JJ and Meghan make their decision about their test pretty early on (no spoilers!) and their result is made clear. Katie goes back and forth about what she wants to do. Her chapters made me feel just as confused as she was. Honestly, when I first read the premise for this book I was sure that if it were me, I would not want to know. Unlike the breast cancer gene, there is nothing a person can do if they have the Huntington's gene. I am not sure I could live ten years or more, just waiting for symptoms to appear. But the more I read of Katie, the more unsure I became about that decision. This book will make you question what you would do in the same position. I do believe this is one of the most emotional books I have read in a long time. It has been a while since a book made me cry this much. But this isn't just a book about a man dying. No, this is about a man learning to enjoy the time he has left, being a role model for his children in showing them how to handle this disease, and also hope. Joe has hope that his children don't have the disease. He has hope that if they do, there will be a cure before they start showing symptoms. Lisa Genova just blew me away with this book. 

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this book!!


  1. Lovely review! I agree, this is a wonderful book. It really made me think, and I felt so much for the characters!

  2. I like your review! This book sounds absolutely wonderful. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

    1. Thanks Breana! It was really, really good. :)