By: Lisa Genova
Pocket Books – Jan 6, 2009
Readers join Alice, a well respected Harvard Professor, researcher and world traveling convention lecturer on her journey into dementia. Expecting a diagnosis of menopause after some minor physical and mental changes Alice is shocked to be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease before her 50th birthday. Throughout the story Alice shares her thoughts and struggles with the reader. At first her thoughts are intelligent and coherent and she is only slightly irritated when she misplaces things or forgets an appointment. As one can guess her irritation increases and her thoughts become less coherent as the book moves along. The forgetfulness increases until it is no longer objects that are lost but Alice herself getting lost in her neighborhood and even in her own home. Readers travel with Alice as she receives the diagnosis and shares it with her family and coworkers. The story of Alice’s mental decline covers a two year span chronicling Alice’s hopes and fears, positive and negative feelings, and jumbled up thoughts.
Although it’s not realistic to expect that a person with dementia would be able to chronicle very far into their journey on their own, I enjoyed having the book written from Alice’s viewpoint. I think it humanized victims of the dreaded diagnosis and gave wonderful insight into what many actually feel, think and wish they could express.
Alice doesn’t want to be a burden to her family or the laughing stock of the college community. She wonders if she will know when the time is right to stop doing certain things. She creates a daily memory quiz and gives herself constant reminders in her PDA to help her through each day. She struggles to cope with changes and also struggles to help her family come to terms with changes ahead for them. Her diagnosis is devastating for her family, but in the end it brings them closer together and they all pitch in to help keep her routine. As she watches them rally around her she can’t help but wonders how long she will recognize them. She is plagued with guilt when she finds out that she passed the gene to at least one of her children. She wants to be part of the cure so her children or grandchildren never develop Alzheimer’s. She wants to live life to the fullest while she can yet she doesn’t want to be around when she can no longer function and think on her own. As she plans for her future she visits a care facility and even considers suicide. I didn’t agree with everything Alice and her family did after the diagnosis but I felt compassion for the position they were in and understood many of the reactions. Alice sets out to read as many books as she can. When the printed page no longer holds her attention she starts watching classic movies and home videos. She wants to add more to the family legacy and she desperately wants to be there to hold her grandchildren. Alice is brave and strong. Even in her struggle she wants to educate others. You will feel pride when she starts an early onset support group and you might want to cheer when she makes a speech at an Alzheimer’s convention. As daily mix ups were recounted you might find yourself starting to smile or laugh only to be hit with a wave of sadness and then anger at yourself for even thinking of laughing for nothing about this decline is funny. You might even cry!
The Author has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and is an online author for the National Alzheimer’s Association therefore this book is much more than just a novel. Still Alice is a thought provoking story. It is heartbreaking yet encouraging. The author provides hope in a time of despair and Alice herself shows us beauty in darkness. I thought about Alice for several days after I finished reading the book. I felt connected to Alice and had to remind myself that the book was fiction and not about a real person. I recommend this book to all readers not just those who may have a family member struggling with this devastating diagnosis. All readers can benefit from this book because none of us knows who in our family might someday suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The book doesn’t offer a map to coping with the disease but rather it reminds readers to look beyond the disease and take time to see the person. Where there is life there is humanity and we must treat all humanity with dignity and respect. She may be slipping away but she is Still Alice. An additional reason to purchase the book is that a portion of the sale of each novel will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. Good for you Lisa Genova!