Inside the O'Briens: A Novel

Image of Inside the O'Briens: A Novel
Release Date: 
October 20, 2015
Gallery Books
Reviewed by: 

Joe O’Brien is a proud Irishman who prizes and protects what’s important in his life—his “bride” Rosie, four mostly-grownup children, and being a cop in Boston. When he starts having uncharacteristic behavioral outbursts and a series of uncontrollable physical mishaps, he reluctantly seeks medical care. The diagnosis of Huntington’s disease totally rocks his world and devastates his family.

Huntington's disease is a degenerative genetic disorder—a life sentence—that disrupts muscle coordination and leads to behavioral and mental deterioration and premature death. It is a heredity disease with a 50% chance of the gene being passed to each of Joe’s children. 

Joe’s grief over his diagnosis is multi-faceted: the inability to safely do his job, loss of independence and control, distress over Rosie’s uncertain future without him, guilt that he may have passed the horrid gene to his children.

It is heart wrenching to watch, Joe, Rosie, and each of their children struggle in his or her own way. Joe has always been their steadfast rock. Now his family grapples with sorrow for him and terror for themselves. Each adult child must make the agonizing decision to either stay in the dark about their own prognosis or be tested to learn if they inherited the gene and will suffer the same fate as their father.

Lisa Genova is a master at creating relatable characters and putting you inside their heads and their worlds to experience the ordinary joys and excruciating heartache of their story from the inside out.

In Genova’s talented hands, the O’Brien’s are flesh and blood, familiar as the close-knit Irish family that lives down the block or cousins you’ve known your entire life. Genova divulges just the right intricate details about the disease throughout the story so learning about Huntington’s progression and prognosis intimately reveals character. Insights about the disease flow naturally out of the plot, never feeling like a soap-box lecture. Take Ms. Genova’s compassionate character development and her unique ability to educate about neurological diseases in an accessible manner, and you have the remarkable book that is Inside the O’Briens.

You will feel like you know the O’Brien’s: their everyday joys, disappointments, and heartaches, family loyalty, and Irish pride. Their very human attempts to face terrifying choices and hold it all together as their world spins out of control will break your heart.

The O’Briens will lodge inside of you long after you turn the last page.