Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Dr. Alice Howland teaches psychology at Harvard. A brilliant researcher and professor, she has a field-changing body of work behind her and looks forward to many years of pursuing her passion.
Then she starts noticing serious lapses in her memory. She finally gets scared when she goes out for a run and gets lost a few blocks from her home, in an area that she has lived in for decades. She goes to the doctor, and is eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at fifty years of age.
I've heard a lot of people talk about how much they loved this book. I decided very early on that it was not for me and forgot about it. Then my book club decided to read it. I have dreaded it. (Sorry, Sonya, but it's true.) I even voted to read it and I still dreaded it. Reading about a brilliant woman losing herself to Alzheimer's? Way too serious and heart-breaking for me.
Just so you know where I'm coming from, no one in my family has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I've never had to watch this happen to someone I love. But, working in healthcare for as long as I have, I've seen what it does. It scares the pants off of me. I've never worked anywhere that leaves me caring for the same patient for any amount of time, so I haven't seen the progression in one person. But I've seen the shells that this disease leaves behind. I vividly remember one 46-year-old patient I had with early-onset Alzheimer's. I literally watched that man die of a heart attack. And that seemed the better alternative to what I had seen before he went bad. That same empty shell, who seemed incapable of doing much more than rattling his bed rails. What kind of "life" is that?
But Still Alice didn't bother me quite as much as I expected it to. Oh, it smacked me in the face alright, but I never dreaded picking the book back up. I was kind of curious to see how Alice would cope with the next curve ball her mind threw at her. Because she is such a brilliant woman, she develops some amazing coping mechanisms. But then she would get lost looking for the bathroom in her own house and my heart would break. Luckily, the scenes that really bothered me never lasted too long.
I am glad that this book is told from Alice's point of view. I think it was a brave decision and I think it was a story that needed to be told. To not just watch this happening to someone else, but to be inside the mind that is slowly breaking down. That made it real in a way that reading the same story from her family's point of view wouldn't have accomplished. Aside from that, I appreciated how Alice felt when others talked about her like she wasn't there. She was having good days and bad at that point, but her loving family inadvertently talked around her occasionally, even on good days. I can't imagine how frustrating that must be. To know that your good days are numbered and to have your loved ones fail to help you make good use of them.
That said, I do wish I knew a little more about what is going on inside her husband's mind. John's obviously not coping well, but he does step up in some ways and make things harder for Alice in other ways. There are a couple of scenes with him in particular that I can't wait to discuss with my book club.
I love the cover and how it fits into the story.
This is obviously not a book for everyone, but if you're on the fence about it, I do recommend you go ahead and give it a try. It's eye-opening in a lot of ways and will leave you thinking. It's good for us all to read books like this sometimes.
Read an excerpt.
Find author Lisa Genova on her website, her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Find other reviews at Book Journey, Reading on a Rainy Day, Bibliophile by the Sea, and The Broke and the Bookish.
Buy Still Alice at
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.