Lisa Genova has written another fascinating book about a disease that affects the brain, Huntington’s Disease. The story is told through the eyes of Joe O’Brien, a loving husband, honest cop, and a father of four grown children who may or may not carry the Huntington’s Disease gene as well. The second main character is his daughter Katie.
The inescapable devastation and early death caused by this disease is heartbreaking. As expected, O’Brien and his family have difficulty accepting this horrific diagnosis. But, through love and strength, each person adapts to this awful circumstance in their own way.
Genova educates the reader on the appearance of Huntington’s. Many victims are mistakenly assumed to be alcoholics. People are so quick to judge. Diseases like Huntington’s are double edge sword destroying the physical and mental health of the patient, and sometimes also destroying their social standing through misinterpretation of its symptoms.
Genova has created a diverse and compelling family to tell her story: the diagnosed patients, the children who must decide whether to be diagnosed or not, young adults who must adapt to their future prognosis, and the support persons who need the strength to cope with anger, confusion, and other changes in personality of their loved one. Joe is the kind of cop we would all hope works in our neighborhood. His devotion to family and community is inspiring. Katie, his daughter, has lived her life in the shadow of her more talented sister, Meghan, the ballet dancer. Now she is faced with the decision of whether or not to be diagnosed. Does she follow her heart and move away with the man she loves or does she stay by her family and live a life of solitude?
On a personal note, as a woman with Parkinson’s Disease, I could identify with some of the experiences of the O’Brien’s. I firmly believe that most people do not mean to be cruel or judgmental. They are simply uninformed. Genova’s books go a long way toward educating the public and making the sufferers of these devastating brain diseases real people.
This was an inspiring and uplifting book in spite of its tragedy.