Lisa Genova has yet again found the perfect vehicle for a sincere, funny, heart-wrenching story with her east coast family story, Inside the O’Briens. I find that reading her novels is a bit like jumping into a chilly pool on a hot day- you just want to make that leap.

Inside the O'Briens

If you have read Still Alice, or recently saw the movie, you know how riveting her stories can be with her endearing, flawed characters who are placed in harm’s way with a disease or illness. As we read her books, we start to care what happens and root for a good outcome.

Boston policeman Joe O’Brien has had some trouble lately with concentrating in his job, controlling his temper at home and seems to always be unconsciously fidgeting. He believes he is just stressed out with his job and home issues. When his symptoms worsen and a doctor is consulted, Joe and his family are shocked to the core by the diagnosis: he has Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s is an inherited disease, passed down through the generations in a person’s DNA. The O’Brien children will have a 50% chance of inheriting the mutated gene. Those who have inherited it will exhibit the signs of the disease as they age. Will it be Megan, a dancer with the Boston Ballet, JJ the firefighter, Katie the yoga instructor or even 16 year-old Patrick?

“[Katie] used to think that being gene positive would change everything. If she’s positive, it will certainly affect her future. But the future is a fantasy. The present moment is all there is. Today, in this moment, if she finds out she is gene positive, it changes nothing about now. She’ll still love the people in this room, and they’ll still love her.” [p.333-4]

Using the same skill in depicting a person with dignity regardless of their illness, Genova gives us all a seat at the Sunday dinner table with the O’Briens as they deal with the incredible life shift.

As Genova explains in the last pages of her book, research is still needed to find out a cure and more treatment options for those afflicted with this life-altering disease. You may connect to Lisa Genova’s website, for further information under “Readers in Action-HD” and have the opportunity to be a part of changing the outcome for so many people.

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