Monday, June 27, 2016

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

Still Alice
Title: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 292
How I Found It: I watched the movie first
Date Completed: 5/19/16

Summary: Alice is a Harvard linguistics professor at the top of her professional game when a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's rocks her world. 

What I Thought: Believe it or not, I watched the movie first. Very out of character for me, I know. I'll talk about the movie next week. For now, suffice it to say that I checked the book out from the library the same day I watched the movie. 

Genova has written a very powerful piece. She follows Alice from the time she begins to notice abnormalities in her own memory and behavior throughout the diagnostic stage and well into the point where she struggles to recognize even her family. All is written from Alice's perspective.

Of course, we cannot know exactly what it is like inside the mind of someone with Alzheimer's - at least not once it reaches more advanced stages. To me, this makes Genova's work that much more impressive. She captures Alice's emotions and experience so well. She conveys Alice's fears and desires very naturally and organically. She makes it easy to feel connected to Alice, something that can be very difficult with a person suffering from a cognitive disorder. 

The book is short and easy to read, but it really delivers. I found it particularly moving because Alzheimer's is a very real presence in my family. My paternal grandfather had it and watching his decline from university president to someone who called me a "fat boy" the last time we spoke (this makes my family and me laugh so hard) was really difficult. I have two other grandparents who have dealt with dementia. It's well accepted that my mom and her siblings are at high risk for Alzheimer's or, at least, dementia. It's talked about and even joked about. They pass around pseudoscientific tips about how eating blueberries (or whatever the latest superfood is) or working sudoku puzzles will diminish risk. It's something that lives continually in my past, present, and future.

Because early onset Alzheimer's is passed on genetically, the book deals extensively with the idea. Alice worries about her children. Her children worry about their future children. There is an overriding tone of responsibility and destiny. Though early onset is not what runs it my family, it was still really thought provoking to see this situation played out. It made me think not just about my mom's potential future, but mine as well. It was hard. I found so much to relate to in Alice's character, specifically because she is a college professor. I was stunned and yet not surprised at all to learn that the intellectually active often decline faster because they have kept their minds active and staved off the early warning signs longer. 

I'm not a crier. I'm just not. It takes a lot for me to get there. It almost never happens with a book or even a real life event. So, when my husband came upstairs and found me sobbing, he was more than a little startled. It was weird and good and painful. 

All that to say, the book is beautiful. Ultimately, it's about family and love and what matters in life. It's about quality of life and what it means to be happy and what it takes to achieve that. It's moving, particularly if you have family experience with the disease or slowly losing a loved one. 

Rating: ★★★★★
Will I Re-Read: Yes

A Reduced Review: This glimpse into life with Alzheimer's is incredibly moving, particularly if you have walked the journey with a loved one.

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