Book Review: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

I first heard of Lisa Genova in 2015, when Still Alice was made into a movie. I never saw the movie, but got the book as soon as I could. It sounded intriguing. However, I started the book but never got far into it. I got Left Neglected sometime in 2017, but never finished that either. I still intend to finish both. Then late last year, I heard of Every Note Played. I never even got that book, but it got me interested in checking out Lisa Genova again. This is how I found Inside the O’Briens. I was impressed. I had read a young adult novel called Rules for 50/50 Chances, about a girl whose mother has Huntington’s Disease, a few years back. That book had been grippling and hard to put down. I don’t know what it is about Huntington’s over Alzheimer’s or ALS that drew me to this book. I read this book and this time, I actually finished it. Here are my thoughts.

Synopsis

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?

My Review

The book starts off with a rather grippling scene in which then 36-year-old Joe recognizes his mother in himself. Then, the book quickly skips over the next seven years and details Joe’s work as a police officer. As a reader, I got clues that something was amiss from the beginning and kept wondering when Joe would finally see it himself. Of course, I knew the reason from the book synopsis and Joe had probably never heard of Huntington’s. When Joe finally causes a riot control drill to be prolonged due to his inability to stay in line, his friend and coworker gets his wife involved. This is when they finally go to the doctor.

Once Joe finds out he has Huntington’s Disease, his four children face the question of whether to get tested for the gene themselves. They each have a 50/50 chance of having the gene too, in which case they’ll get the disease. I knew as much from Rules for 50/50 Chances, which centered on this chance. It was very intriguing to follow each child’s steps towards accepting their father’s fate and making a choice about knowing or not knowing their own.

Genova chooses to focus her attention on Katie, Joe’s youngest daughter. She is only 21 and as such, not much older than the main character in Rules for 50/50 Chances. However, Inside the O’Briens is clearly a novel intended for adults and not young people. This is clear when reading from Katie’s perspective too. I must say here that I generally prefer young adult to mature fiction, but this was truly a great read. It’s also not really fair to compare this book to a young adult book by a different author when their only similarity is Huntington’s.

I loved the detail with which Genova describes the scenes and her characters. Each character is truly well-rounded in a way I don’t see often. This book is about so much more than Huntington’s. It’s also about police work, because Joe is a police officer. That may’ve been another thing drawing me into this book rather than Genova’s other books: I just so love learning about cops’ lives.

Book Details

Title: Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

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Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

Man, #JusJoJan is getting nowhere. That is, I’ve been jotting stuff down everyday, but none of it was blog-worthy. I felt a little uninspired. Then, reading a book seemed more interesting than writing a blog post. I chose the book called And She Was by Jessica Verdi. Then, once I finished the book, I wanted to write a review for my blog, but didn’t get round to doing it. Then on Thursday, I fell and suffered a small but painful collarbone fracture. Now it’s Monday and typing with that hand still hurts like crazy, but I so badly want to finally write the review. Here goes.

Synopsis

Dara’s lived a sheltered life with her single mom, Mellie. Now, at eighteen, she’s dreaming of more. When Dara digs up her never-before-seen birth certificate, her world implodes. Why are two strangers listed as her parents?

Dara confronts her mother, and is stunned by what she learns: Mellie is transgender. The unfamiliar name listed under “father”? That’s Mellie. She transitioned when Dara was a baby, after Dara’s birth mother died. She changed her name, started over.

But Dara still has more questions than answers. Reeling, she sets off on an impromptu road trip with her best guy friend, Sam, in tow. She is determined to find the extended family she’s never even met. What she does discover — and what her mother reveals, piece by piece, over emails — will challenge and change Dara more than she can imagine.

This is a gorgeous, timely, and essential novel about the importance of being our true selves. The backmatter includes an author’s note and resources for readers.

My Review

I already started reading this book a month or two ago. It felt a little slow-moving at first. However, once I picked up the book where I left off again last week, it was really good.

At the beginning of the book, you get to empathize mostly with Dara. This may be one reason people consider the book transphobic, since Dara first decides that her mother’s transition is selfish. Throufh Mellie’s E-mails to her though, you get to understand her perspective too. It takes a long time for Dara to understand Mellie’s point of view and, as such, it takes the reader some time too.

All characters in the book are really well-developed. With some, like the Pembrokes – the grandparents Dara meets -, I got an uneasy inkling of what was coming when they were first introduced. Still, their character was really well-painted.

Some people have pointed out that Mellie is constantly misgendered by the Pembrokes and some others. They feel this is negative. It is, of course, but it serves to illustrate these people’s character. Nowhere is the misgendering condoned by Dara.

There weren’t many truly surprising twists and turns in the book, but the plot wasn’t predictable either. Overall, I liked it. I got stuck on some details, like how could a trans person change their legal name without bottom surgery (this is not possible here), but I assume Verdi did her research.

Overall, I really liked the book. I am cisgender, so cannot say for sure whether this book isn’t transphobic. However, even though some characters are, this is probably real life for trans people everyday, sad as it may be.

Book Details

Title: And She Was
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Publication Date: March 27, 2018

Book Review: Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass

I bought Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass on Kindle right when it came out early last month, but didn’t finish it till yesterday. Not because it wasn’t a good book, but because I struggled to make time for reading. Today, I’m reviewing this foster care memoir.

Synopsis

The true story of Melody, aged 8, the last of five siblings to be taken from her drug dependent single mother and brought into care.

When Cathy is told about Melody’s terrible childhood, she is sure she’s heard it all before. But it isn’t long before she feels there is more going on than she or the social services are aware of. Although Melody is angry at having to leave her mother, as many children coming into care are, she also worries about her obsessively – far more than is usual. Amanda, Melody’s mother, is also angry and takes it out on Cathy at contact, which again is something Cathy has experienced before. Yet there is a lost and vulnerable look about Amanda, and Cathy starts to see why Melody worries about her and feels she needs looking after.

When Amanda misses contact, it is assumed she has forgotten, but nothing could have been further from the truth…

My Review

The subtitle listed on Amazon for this book is “A Young Girl and a Mother Who No Longer Knoews Her”. From this subtitle, I already guessed that Amanda, Melody’s mother, might’ve suffered some form of brain damage. Perhaps she was in an accident and had gone into a persistent vegetative state? The thought of dementia also crossed my mind, but I dismissed this when I found out early in the book that Amanda was only 42.

Despite the fact that I had some inkling of where this book might be headed, the twists and turns did surprise me. It was heartbreaking to read about Amanda’s decline. The book ended on a really bittersweet note.

I loved Cathy Glass’ narrative style. I deveoped a liking for each of the characters. Amanda, of course, elicited pity with her illness, but I also got to appreciate the attempts she’d made at caring for Melody before she was taken into foster care. Cathy maintains a mostly unbiased yet positive attitude throughout the book. I thoroguhly enjoyed the book, despite its emotive subject matter.

Book Details

Title: Where Has Mummy Gone?: A Young Girl and a Mother Who No Longer Knows Her
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: Harper Element
Publication Date: September 6, 2018