Book Review: Inside the O’Briens

insideobriensTitle: Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5

Inside the O’Briens  is a family drama that explores the horrors of Huntington’s disease. Joe O’Brien is a 44-year-old Boston Police officer, living in an Irish Catholic neighborhood with his wife and four adult children. Over time, he begins to experience convoluted thoughts, outbursts of anger, and involuntary movements that start rumors that he might have a drug or alcohol problem. Offended by the accusations, Joe reluctantly sees a doctor and is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease that has no treatment and no cure. The disease is genetic and Joe feels the overwhelming guilt of knowing that each of his children has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease.

Inside the O’Briens is written from two different perspectives, Joe’s and his daughter, Katie’s. Joe’s perspective is exactly what I had pictured from a Boston Police officer and I think Genova does an incredible job creating Joe as a character. As I read the chapters from his point of view, I could hear the Boston accent every time he spoke. As the disease progresses, Joe struggles with the public shame of the disease, reliving memories of his mother with the disease, and being stripped of his police badge. The second perspective is from Joe’s daughter, Katie. Katie is almost the exact opposite of Joe and I think it was very easy to distinguish between the two points of view. Katie is a yoga teacher, a big believer in inspirational quotes and the teachings of Buddhism, and feels like she lives in her older sister’s shadow. When Joe reveals his diagnosis to his family, Katie spends the rest of the novel obsessing over her at risk status and does not decide to get her test results until the very end of the novel. Although some of Katie’s thoughts were slightly repetitive, it’s understandable given her circumstances. I thought the saddest moments from Katie’s point of view came from when she interacted with her father. The relationship between her and Joe is incredibly endearing, but it’s sad to see the picture she paints of Joe’s deteriorating condition.

Joe and Katie were excellently crafted characters and I thought Genova did a wonderful job bringing the rest of the characters to life as well. Rosie, Joe’s wife, is a devout Catholic whose faith is truly tested as she faces the reality of losing her husband and possibly her children to a disease that is foreign to her. Meghan, Katie’s older sister, is a ballerina in the Boston Ballet and exudes the confidence that Katie lacks, creating tension between the two of them. JJ is Joe’s oldest son and he is incredibly similar to him, with the exception that he is a fireman instead of a police officer. Patrick, Joe’s other son, is a bartender and lives a nocturnal lifestyle that makes Joe and Rosie fearful. Although his actions are negative, Patrick is very kind and obviously cares for his family.

Overall, I thought that Inside the O’Briens was great. I thought that the characters were incredibly lifelike and authentic and the family dynamic was very interesting and real. Genova did a great job of creating unique characters and I really enjoyed that. I thought that Joe’s internal struggle as his disease progresses was agonizing but very well written. I thought that his resolution to be an example to his children and show them how to live and die with Huntington’s disease very much fit his character as a loving father. I really liked how the ending brought all of the characters together and although I wanted to know what would happen next, I thought it was a good way to end the story.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to anyone who is interested in a family drama or to anyone interested in learning more about Huntington’s disease. If you enjoyed Genova’s Still Alice, you will enjoy Inside the O’Briens as well.

If you have read Inside the O’Briens, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Inside the O’Briens on Amazon, please click here.

I received an advanced copy of Inside the O’Briens courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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