Genova, L. (2009). Still Alice. New York, NY: Gallery Books. $15.00 ISBN 978-1-4391-0281-7
Alzheimer’s disease victim, fifty year old Alice Howland, is a successful cognitive psychology professor at Harvard University, an expert in linguistics and researcher. She is the mother of three young adults and wife of John Howland, a successful professor scientist and researcher. When Alice starts forgetting things, like simple words and tasks, she thinks that she is going through menopause but when she gets lost one time in a place near her house that she has been familiar with for 25 years, she knows that something is wrong. As her symptoms progress, she seeks medical help and finds out that she has early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. At first she goes through denial, but when reality hits; her world changes completely. Alice has the support from her husband who is helping her to find the proper treatment, but Alzheimer’s affects Alice and her family.
Still Alice, written by Lisa Genova is a heartbreaking story about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects the victims who suffer from this terrible disease and their families. The author of the book, Lisa Genova, shows us through the fictitious character of Alice that Alzheimer’s disease is not only suffered by older adults, but it can happen to anyone and at a younger age too, like Alice, a 50 year old successful and fit/healthy woman. Genova decided to write about this subject because her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s when she was in her eighties and it hit them hard. Her grandmother was an independent active woman, but the disease took away from her how she used to be. The book was written from Alice’s viewpoint, but the novel shows not only how Alice’s life is affected but also how Alzheimer’s changed John (her husband) and their children’s life (Anna, Tom and Lydia). The book clearly shows how Alzheimer’s is progressing in Alice and the toll that it has taken in her life and in her family’s life. It is well described how her life is changing as the days pass; she has to stop teaching and flying to conferences, she forgets what she was doing and where she left things and simple daily tasks. She is trying her best to not let the disease consume her memories but unfortunately she is fighting with an invisible enemy.
Although Still Alice is a fiction story, everything feels realistic like Alzheimer’s that is real and tragic. Alice’s story takes place from September 2003 when she starts noticing her symptoms (diagnosed in January 2004) to September 2005, when her disease has progressed and Alice and her family have gone through a lot of changes. When Alice was lucid, one of her main worries was that Alzheimer’s can be passed on to children genetically. The moment when she told her husband and children about the disease felt real and devastating. As seen with Alice’s case, Alzheimer’s disease progresses fast and there seems that nothing can stop the outcome. The image of Alice; a healthy, fit, smart and professional successful woman was perfect as an example that Alzheimer’s can hit anyone and that there are no social statuses, races or lifestyles that can help one be one the safe side. There are treatments to help delay the disease but that is all that they can do, Alice went through a clinical trial treatment but unfortunately, it did not work.
“We, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, are not yet utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended periods of lucidity. Yet we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our formal lives. We feel like we are neither here nor there, like some crazy Dr. Seuss character in a bizarre land. It is a very lonely and frustrating place to be” (Genova, 251). Alice’s world changed completely when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As the months passed, she had to stop doing what she loved; teaching and doing research. She had to stop flying to conferences, running alone and being herself. She lost her memories of her children and husband. There were times when she got lost in time confusing reality with the past; bringing her dead parents and sister alive (they had been dead for years). She lost the ability to dress herself, read, type and even had trouble forming sentences and expressing her ideas clearly. The smart and once active woman full of life did not recognize her own husband and children. She did not feel at home when she was at home. Her family were strangers to her, but deep inside of her she still loved them.
Still Alice is one of the best books I have read. I learned about Alzheimer’s and I cried in many parts of the book. It felt so real and I wish I could help Alice. I definitely recommend this book so that people learn how the life of the victims is changed and how the families suffer because of this disease. Alice’s family was united and supportive; I wonder how people that do not have family deal with this. Genova did a great job with Alice’s story. It is heartbreaking but worth reading.
Genova, L. (2009). Still alice. New York, NY: Gallery Books.