REVIEW OF STILL ALICE by Jarad Johnson
It’s the first book review from our senior youth correspondent, Jarad Johnson. Jarad is the official bookworm at Fayetteville High School. Bless his heart…he may end up being an English major. But put aside your sympathy for a moment to enjoy his book recommendation:
Still Alice is a gripping tale about a woman (Alice) in her prime. Surprisingly this book was initially self-published, but the story of someone struggling with mortality hit a chord with readers because it subsequently became very popular. The book follows the story of Alice, a lauded professor of Cognitive Psychology at Harvard and a world renowned expert in Linguistics. As she starts becoming increasingly forgetful and disorientated, she decides to see a doctor. Ultimately, she learns that she has Early-On Set Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, she has her family to help her through this ordeal. Alice has two daughters and a son. Her daughter Lydia is the black sheep of the family. While the other two siblings go to college and attain degrees, Lydia wants to pursue acting, which is not at all part of the plan that Alice had in store for her. It is Lydia, with whom Alice has the most complicated relationship, who eventually takes on the role of caretaker when Alice’s illness reaches its peak. Alice’s daughter Anna is overachieving, and often critical of her other siblings.
Alice’s relationship with her children is even further complicated by the fact that they may have the disease. Early on set Alzheimer’s disease has a 50/50 chance of being passed on to the child. There is a test that all of the children with the exception of Lydia take to see if they carry the identifying genetic marker. Anna has even more to fear because she’s pregnant with twins. Tom, the last of the children, does not play a significant role in caring for his mother or assisting his father as is often the case for male adult children. He is not mentioned many times throughout the course of the novel. Alice’s husband is her main caregiver and is there for her as the disease progresses, until he gets a job offer that is too good for him to turn down. Alice doesn’t wish to move; in fact, she wants to spend a year on sabbatical with him because she knows that she won’t be coherent enough the year after.
This book broke my heart in the best way imaginable . It was tragic and heartfelt at the same time. I was shocked to read the rapid progression from accomplished professor to unresponsive patient. It was very sad to see the character lose everything that she had worked for her entire life. From her memories to her professorship at Harvard to, finally, her mind. However, I can honestly say that I enjoyed this from the very first page. I found it compelling and tinged with sorrow, mostly because you know how the book is going to end. There is no cure, no hope that she will be able to overcome this, as strong as she is. It was, truly, a great read. I think that this particular book affected me so strongly because of a similar situation that I myself am experiencing. My grandmother broke her hip some months ago and I have been sitting with her and watching her recovery. It's difficult to see someone you love lose their sense of independence - to see them in the grip of age and uncertainty. Unlike Alice, she can and is improving, but I still identify with this book strongly because of it.
Also, this book sheds light on what it is like to have Alzheimer’s disease. While this is something that we hear regularly, it’s difficult to imagine what the person is going through, especially if it’s early –on set. How can you imagine what it’s like to be only fifty years old and losing your sense of self? T his books gives that perspective, showing you exactly what it’s like. I recommend it to everyone. W e all experience loss. Sometimes it's those close to us...eventually it will be our own mental and physical health. Personally, I think that it’s all of these things. The prose is absolutely brilliant in allowing us to see inside the mind of a strong character fighting the inevitability of death. It’s one of those stories that all readers are acquainted with: one that grabs you instantly, and doesn’t let you go until you turn the last page and realize you’ve missed dinner.