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.
Kathryn - 5 Star
This novel is understandably intense. I read it with purpose from the first few pages, completely engrossed in the life of this family. Lisa Genova is a talented writer, of this there is no doubt. Her ability to create characters that are warm and relatable while dealing with heart-wrenching issues is just so impressive.
I was hooked on the O’Briens by page 7. My immediate attachment to Joe came from the ease of writing and the utter appreciation for his love for his family, his pride in his work and his obvious dedication to both. We are only introduced to two voices during the novel- Joe, the father of the family and Katie, his youngest daughter. While each family member is represented in dialogue with these two it was nice to only have the two voices to contend with. You could feel each of their stages clearly enough and their ruminations and actions expressed the heartache of the family, the anxiety and stress quite well enough for them all.
I’ve said it was heart-wrenching to read. How could it not be? Huntington’s has no cure yet and it’s a somewhat rare disease that can be diagnosed before symptoms appear. The internal turmoil of Katie and her siblings to find out if they carry the gene was almost worse than reading about Joe’s symptoms and the more imminent fatality of his own life he is now facing.
The story of the O'Briens covers all the bases, the feelings of the parents, Joe’s feeling toward his own past, their crippling worry for their children and grandchildren as well as the children’s own worry, paranoia and anger.
The novel is brilliant- for anyone who has yet to read anything by Lisa Genova you must absolutely pick up any one of her novels. Her ease of writing brings forth so much education and shines light on hope within hopelessness.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for our review copy. All opinions are our own.
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