The first book I read by Lisa Genova was Still Alice. I decided to read the book BEFORE watching the film, although the photo of Julianne Moore plastered over ALL my books by Lisa suggests otherwise (does that really annoy anyone else? … or is it just me?! Jeeeeeze Hollywood.)
Still Alice tells the story of a 50-year-old Professor of Psychology at Harvard through her struggle with early-onset Alzheimers. It’s told from the unique perspective of Alice herself, and is exceptionally powerful, moving and thought provoking. As someone who enjoys writing science articles aimed at non-scientists, I was consistently so impressed by how accurate Lisa’s depiction of the world of academic science was, and how well she explained the biology Alzheimers disease.
“Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them. Some would argue that things were going so insidiously wrong that the neurons themselves initiated events that would lead to their own destruction. Whether it was molecular murder or cellular suicide, they were unable to warn her of what was happening before they died.” – p2
“Secretases were the naturally occurring enzymes that released normal, unharmful levels of amyloid-beta. The mutation in Alice’s presenilin-1 secretase rendered it insensitive to proper regulation, and it produced too much amyloid-beta. Too much was harmful. Like turning on a faucet that couldn’t be turned off, her sink was rapidly overflowing.” – p155
I thought to myself – wow… how has she got such a good handle on this? That’s when I flicked to the author biography and learned that Lisa has a PhD in neurobiology. During her studies she was intrigued by her own grandmother’s struggle with dementia, and spent a long time talking to both medical experts and patients to allow her to tell this story with frightening detail.
Each of Lisa’s books focusses on a different neurological disorder. Inside the O’Briens follows a family’s battle with Huntingtons disease. Left Neglected (my personal favourite of those I have read) tells the story of a powerful businesswoman who loses her sense of ‘left’ following a serious car accident. Love Anthony, which is next on my reading list, focusses on a young child with autism.
Even though each of these stories are heartbreaking, reminding us of how cruel life can be, Lisa always manages to inject a glimmer of hope. The characters learn to focus on what they do have instead of what they have lost, which helps you, the reader, to appreciate things that you might have been taking for granted before. You are left with the overarching message that it’s so important to focus on the bright side, because if you look hard enough, it’ll be there.