April 20, 2016

A Slice of Brie Book Club: Inside the O'Briens & Next Month's Book Pick

An online book club with A Slice of Brie

Hello fellow Book Clubbers! I'm so excited for our first book club! I was overwhelmed by how many of you eagerly jumped on board to participate, and you must know that every time one of you texted, snap chatted, tweeted or messaged me that you had picked up the book or were enjoying it, made me so, so happy!

Because that's why I wanted to start a book club in the first place - talking about books gives me so much pleasure, and even though I have a lot of friends and family that read, we very rarely are reading the same book at the same time, and often I have no one to talk about a book with after I'm done reading it. I am part of a few different real-life book clubs, but I don't always make it to the monthly meetings, and let's be honest, it's pretty awesome to be able to read and then talk about a book from the comfort of your own home. No organizing where to meet, what to eat, getting dressed, etc. The beauty of the online book club is you can come participate in the conversation anytime during the day and even for days after!

As I always do, I will respond to everyone's comments, and I encourage you all to comment on each other's comments so that we really get to discussing about the book! Also, there's a link-up at the bottom for anyone who may have written their own review, whether that be in it's own post or included in a post. That will make it easier for me to check out everyone's reviews if you link up!


OK...let's get on with the book! In case you are new around here and weren't aware that today was book club day, then welcome! You can read more about my book club in this post. Because this isn't your typical book review, there WILL BE SPOILERS in this post, so if you haven't read the book for this month - Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova - and you are planning to one day, then you might want to skip ahead to the end of this post where I will be introducing 3 potential books for May's book club, and a poll for you all to vote on next month's pick! I hope you all are sticking around for more book clubbing!

Discussing Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova for book club

So...Inside the O'Briens. This is the 4th book by Lisa Genova, and since I've read all of her previous books, I was pretty confident, given her style of writing and topics, that this would be a great book to discuss. This book is about Joe, a father in his early 40s, who is diagnosed with Huntington's Disease (HD). HD is an inherited neurodegenerative disease, characterized by an increase in involuntary movements - which are often sharp, jerky and abrupt (Chorea) - as well as a loss of balance, slurred speech, impulsive movements, as well as thoughts, inability to control outbursts of anger, and the list goes on. And since HD is degenerative, the symptoms become worse with time, to the point where effected persons become wheelchair and bed bound, are unable to walk, talk and perform any act of daily living. Yet, their minds remain intact. Can you even imagine? I wouldn't wish this disease on my own worst enemy.

When I worked on a sub-acute (rehab) unit as a nurse many moons ago, I had a patient for many months that had HD. I don't remember very many of my patients from that time, but he will always be remembered. He was the nicest, most caring man ever, but it was my first experience ever with someone with HD. I had of course read about the disease in my studies, but reading isn't the same as experiencing. His jerky, impulsive movements will stay with me, his frequent falls and his inability to drink water from a simple glass, are all things I will never forget. I bring this up because I feel like it gave me insight into this book from a different perspective. I could literally picture the progression of Joe's disease, the symptoms that were explained almost ad nauseam. When I pictured Joe, I pictured my old client whom I haven't actually thought about in years.

But back to the book...since HD is hereditary, Joe's four adult children are now at risk for also developing the disease. They have a 50% chance each of getting HD. I can't even imagine the guilt a parent would feel over something like this, especially since Joe was unaware that his own mother had had the disease and that he was at risk for also getting it. His children are now faced with the decision of gene testing: do they find out if they carry the gene for HD, or don't they? At first, this seems like a "simple" decision. Either find out, or don't. Either way, you can't do anything about the outcome. But then the book showed me how much more complicated the decision would be for siblings going through this. So much guilt. Guilt of being gene negative if one or more of your siblings is positive. Guilt of being positive and telling your results to your mother who already has so much pain to deal with. How do you tell your own mom that not only is her husband dying, but now you are too. And what if they're all gene positive?! It's possible.

As I'm sure most of you also did while reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking about what would I do? Would I have the test done? I honestly think I would. While I found the character of Katie quite frustrating at times, not to mention redundant, her emotional dilemma provided some great insight. If you're going to completely let the possibility of having HD consume you, then wouldn't it be better just to know for sure? If you're just going to waste your days and months grieving for the unknown, then better to know and make the most of the years you still have left. At least that's how I hope I would confront it.

Katie's boyfriend, Felix, was probably one of my favourite characters in the book because he was such a voice of reason and a calm presence within the storm. Find out, don't find out, but own the decision and live your life in the meantime. I wanted desperately for Katie to find out her results. I was so tired of her beating around the bush, and while I can't begin to even put myself into her shoes, her indecisiveness did get a little annoying after awhile.

Now let's talk about the ending: seriously?! I get it - authors want to leave you with hope, but come on! I was so disappointed. I felt like the whole book led up to Katie deciding if she was going to find out her results, and then seconds before the genetic counsellor reads it out loud, that's it. Book is DONE. Argh! Even though my heart believes she was negative, I wanted that confirmation. It was a such an emotional book, full of so much heartache, that I wanted that actual piece of good news, not just the glimmer of it.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this read and I had a hard time putting the book down in-between readings. I love how the author takes a devastating, lethal disease, and turns it into a story that you can connect with, while also shedding awareness on a topic that isn't as widely discussed as other diseases out there.

QUESTIONS FOR YOU: (feel free to answer in the comments or not!)

1. If you found yourself in this situation, would you want to find out if you were gene positive or negative, or not know at all? I think I would want to know. I would want to make the most of my life and not be overly worried about every little misstep, fidgety foot or clumsy moment if I wasn't in fact gene positive. 

2. Given the involuntary, spastic movements, reduced speed and memory impairment that characterize Huntington's Disease, do you think Joe should have stepped down from his job as a police officer sooner than he did? It made me really nervous when I knew Joe was still actively out in the field even though he was suffering quite a great deal from the symptoms of HD. What if he accidentally shot his gun when he shouldn't? What if he couldn't fulfil part of his role while out on duty due to his limiting mobility? I was surprised he hung in as long as he did.

3. Joe's son JJ is tested as gene positive and his wife is pregnant with their first child. They choose not to have genetic testing done, which means they won't find out if their unborn child has the HD gene until he is 18 years old, and that's only if he decides to be tested. Would you test your unborn child? I don't think I would. A diagnosis of HD doesn't mean a life isn't worth living at all. The unknown would be tough, but I wouldn't want to know to end the pregnancy. That wouldn't be an option.

4. Felix asks Katie to move across the country to Portland with him. Katie is tormented by this decision as she feels she needs to be with her family regardless of whether she is gene positive or not. Do you think it's Katie's duty to remain in Charlestown with her family, or should she still live her own life? Would you move away? It made me upset when Joe asked Katie to stay in town and not move away for the sake of her mother, but I was glad when he came around to his senses. Katie need to live her life and can't carry the burden of guilt that HD has brought upon her forever. In Katie's situation, I would go. Down the road, if I needed to move back to be closer to my family when the HD got worse (for Joe), then I would. 

5. Were you hoping for an answer at the end of the book? Or were you satisfied with the feeling of hope the author left us with? Do you think Katie was gene positive or negative? Like I said above, I wanted a real answer! 



So I decided we should vote on next month's book to read because it's so hard to decide and a lot of pressure to pick! Even picking three to vote on was tough, haha! But hopefully one of these appeals to everyone. I picked three very completely different books...not sure if that will make the decision easier or harder! I will announce May's pick next week so stay tuned! You will have until Sunday to vote. 

A Slice of Brie Book Club

Links to checkout these books on goodreads: When Breath Becomes Air, Lost & Found, and Remember Mia. (*Local peeps, only Lost & Found appears to be readily available at the library, in case that factor weighs in on your decision!).

And now to vote!:

Happy voting! And don't forget to link up your posts so I can check them out!

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