Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova (2015)

In the US, there are 37,000 individuals affected by a neurodegenerative disease called Huntington’s. This number is relatively low compared to the overall population, but make no mistake, it is a death sentence—a diagnosis made worse by it being considered a “family disease” with a high genetic likeliness that more than one generation in a family will be affected.

This is the case with the O’Briens, an Irish Catholic family, comprised of Joe and Rosie and their four children, all in their twenties. Joe is an old school Boston cop who puts a lot into tradition, but his life is changed when he’s diagnosed with Huntington’s and soon can’t control his behavior or keep his body from doing things without his consent. Throughout the novel, we see Joe’s condition worsen, but we also watch each of his children struggle with the choice to be genetically tested to know if they will develop the disease in the future, or remain ignorant.

The book can be heartbreaking at times, but is leavened by clever humor and sweet family moments. Like Lisa Genova’s other novels, Inside the O’Briens puts a very personal face on a relatively unknown or misunderstood neurological disease, educating the reader through a compelling family story.

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