Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Recap - Lisa Genova's Still Alice & Left Neglected

Follow-up - As I said in the post about my favorite books of the year, it felt as if Lisa Genova was my discovery of the year.  A co-worker raved about Still Alice, and I went back and read it when I was sent Left Neglected to review.  These are remarkable books, written by a scientist, who tells the stories of women who suffer from disorders.  Here's what I said about Still Alice.

Lisa Genova's Still Alice is a novel you'll read with your heart. And, it will break your heart, but Alice Howland's story is so tragic, and so realistic, that it needs to be read. I'll thank the friend that recommended it to me. And, you won't regret picking it up on my recommendation. I promise.

As a speaker, Dr. Alice Howland was introduced as "The eminent William James Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Over the last twenty-five years, her distinguished career has produced many of the flagship touchstones in psycholinguistics." However, Alice Howland, at only fifty, lost a word in that speech she presented. She lost other things, but chalked it up to getting old and menopause. But, her youngest daughter, Lydia, noticed she repeated questions. Alice didn't panic though, until she couldn't find her way home from Harvard Square one day. Alice's husband, John, a scientist himself, didn't notice Alice's problems. But, Alice did, and she pushed her way into doctor appointments until she was diagnosed. Alice had early-onset Alzheimer's.

Lisa Genova's story of a woman with Alzheimer's is unusual because it tells the story from Alice's viewpoint. So many Alzheimer's stories deal with the elderly. Instead, we see a brilliant young woman, at the top of her profession, with three grown children and a successful husband, realize that someday she was going to lose her sense of Alice. And, in Alice's two-year journey, we watch her husband's denial, the uncertainty as to how to handle it, and the eventual loss of the Alice she thought she was. "Who was she if she wasn't a Harvard psychology professor?" Genova shows us a woman who knows what she's losing, and she recognizes it before her family does.

Lisa Genova holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, and she combines her scientific background with an insight into the heart and mind of a woman who suffers from Alzheimer's. It's important to know that the National Alzheimer's Association endorsed the book.

I can't praise this novel highly enough, and I won't give more details. You should read this book to see Alzheimer's from the victim's point of view. Still Alice is unique because Genova shows that Alice, as she becomes, still embodies someone beautiful. She no longer knows her family, but she recognizes love. And, she herself embodies the comment her mother once made about butterflies. "Just because their lives were short didn't mean they were tragic."

Lisa Genova's website is

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Simon & Schuster, Pub. Date, 2009. ISBN 9781439102817 (paperback), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Follow-up - As I said, I reviewed Lisa Genova's Left Neglected for Library Journal.  The book is released in January, so I'd suggest you watch for it.  It might be a terrific addition to your own TBR pile.  Gift cards, anyone?

If I hadn't been sent Lisa Genova's Left Neglected to review for Library Journal, I might not have gone back to read her novel, Still Alice. I'm so grateful that I was selected to review the one, so I could discover Genova as an author. Here's my review of Left Neglected, as it appeared in the Nov. 15, 2010 issue of Library Journal.

Genova, Lisa. Left Neglected. Gallery: S. & S. Jan. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9781439164631. $25. F

With a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Genova brings an expertise to this novel about a woman suffering from a little-known neurological syndrome. Sarah Nickerson is a high-powered business executive, juggling 80 hours of work, marriage, and life with three young children. Following a car accident, she wakes up to learn she’s suffering from brain damage, a syndrome called left neglect that leaves her unable to feel or see anything on her left side. As she struggles to recover, Sarah also copes with other aspects of her life “left neglected” owing to her busy lifestyle: her relationship with her mother, her son’s inability to concentrate, and her own quality of life. Once again, the author of Still Alice, a best-selling debut about a woman dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s, has created a character with a compelling voice and perspective in a moving story that shows how brain trauma forces people to change their lives. VERDICT This is a positive novel about hope and strength that should find a market with those who appreciate contemporary women’s fiction and readers who either are coping with brain disorders or have family members with these conditions.—Lesa Holstine, Glendale P.L., AZ

Copyright 2010. Library Journal, LLC. Nov. 15, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

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