Book Review: Still Alice

blogI’d been interested in reading the book since I saw the nominations for the film adaptions at last year’s Academy Awards. However, I was a bit skeptical when I picked up the copy at the library and the review said, “I wanted to stand up and tell a train full of strangers, ‘You have to get this book.’” And yet, here I am writing about the book even though that was not the planned topic for today. Why? Because that reviewer was right.

The story is about Alice Howland, a brilliant linguist and celebrated Harvard professor, who becomes increasingly disoriented and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The beginning is a bit slow as we wait for her to figure out something is wrong with her. But once she is diagnosed, the book is gripping in the best, most horrifying way possible.

Still Alice will change your perspective on Alzheimer’s, and any mental illness for that matter.

Is the part of my brain that’s responsible for unique ‘me-ness’ vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins, and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer’s? I believe it is.

It’s a heavy read. It hits not only what the disease is like, but all the baggage that comes with it: the depression and thoughts of suicide, what it’s like being a spouse and child of an Alzheimer’s patient, the stigmatism of those with a mental illness. We get the perspective of Alice, which I think was brilliant on the part of the author. We are literally in her mind as it deteriorates. It especially gets more interesting as she gets into the further stages when she begins repeating herself.  While in the end, it makes her an unreliable narrator, the connection you feel while reading is intense. You see how she transforms and how her brain connects from one thing to the other, which you wouldn’t get on the outside looking in.

I’m having a hard time writing objectively about it because it moved me so completely. The last 100 pages I spent on the brink of tears, and the half hour after I finished, completely sobbing. The weight of this book crushed me in the worst and best of ways.

We’ll start with the worst. As a person with whose family has a history of mental illness, the story raised understandably biological and psychological fears. I racked my brain wondering what genetic mutations could I have that I’ve now passed onto my son. I strongly related to Alice, a woman who still had aspirations, potential, and a brilliant mind, which ultimately worked against her.  It was terrifying to watch a person’s life slip away from her due to some genetics. I was reminded of how scary and unpredictable life can be.

But that was also the good. Life is short and I need to make every day count. Furthermore, I need to remember that I have a good life even when it’s hard. And even when if it gets as hard as Alice’s, it still matters. Every person matters no matter they’re level of suffering, no matter if they have Alzheimer’s and they won’t remember today. The story was inspiring to a level that I can’t quite describe. If you ever need a reminder to be grateful for what you have, then this is the book to read. And even if you don’t, I still would urge you to read it because this book can change people’s lives.

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