Book Review: Still Alice

Still Alice book cover

by Kim Keller

Every once in a while I read a book that I love so much I want to buy it for everyone I know.  Does that happen to you?  Well, that’s how I felt when I finished reading Still Alice.  I just loved it!  And that, frankly, surprised me.  A book about Alzheimer’s disease is one that I would expect to learn from but certainly not enjoy.  Turns out, this book is unforgettable.

Still Alice is a novel about a 50-year old woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Alice experiences what most of us do as we get older — we start to forget things.  Alice begins to wonder:  Is it just aging?  Stress?  Not enough sleep?  Menopause?  When Alice gets lost during a routine jog in her neighborhood, she recognizes there is something more going on and decides to see her doctor.  Alzheimer’s was clearly not her first guess.

I became fast friends with Alice.  She took me by the hand and lead me down the dark and winding path into dementia.  It’s a fascinating journey, and I found myself standing right alongside Alice, taking each and every neurological test, wishing I could do something to help her as her daily life became such a struggle.  Yes, I’m 50 and my forgetfulness can be unnerving at times — being able to tap into that emotion made Alice’s descent even more terrifying.  But the dividing line between common forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s disease became abundantly clear to me as I watched Alice sink deeper into the disease.  Spending time with Alice was both upsetting and mesmerizing.  Each day the challenges became greater — from getting lost in her own home to not recognizing her own children.  I was truly pained for my friend Alice.

Lisa Genova, the author of Still Alice, has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard.  Her decision to make her fictional Alice a Harvard professor of psychology and linguistics might tempt readers to think this is autobiographical.  But Genova was apparently motivated to write this book because her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and Lisa simply utilized her writing talent, making the story more accessible by using familiar settings and themes.  Usually books about Alzheimer’s are written in either a clinical way or from the point of view of the caregiver, but I think Lisa’s decision to make this story a work of fiction was inspired and succeeds brilliantly.  She lets us feel what it’s like to have the disease, and we learn, right along with Alice, her husband and three grown kids, what Alzheimer’s is all about, how deeply it changes not just the sufferer but the entire world to which she’s connected.

Still Alice is about more than the destruction of a mind.  It’s a lesson in how to live life fully.  Alice taught me about bravery.  She taught me how to be a better friend.  As her yesterdays slipped away from her and her tomorrows became more uncertain, Alice taught me to never forget that life is here right now in this moment.



8 Responses to “Book Review: Still Alice”

  1. Betsy Jane says:

    Beautifully done, Kim. You have made me want to read this book right now – we all need the reminder to live in “the now”. Thank you for a beautiful recommendation.

  2. Tina says:

    Your blog is great. I bought the book on Friday, started it Saturday evening and finished it on Sunday in between tears and smiles. This book is incredible in its sensitivity, insightfulness, warmth and understanding. Every person should read Still Alice and experience if even for a few moments what it is like to slowly lose portions of yourself that you were always able to rely on. This book will make you more sympathetic and emphathetic as I keep repeating to myself…john black, 42 west street, brighton.

    Kim, thanks for recommending it. It was a winner!

  3. Lisa says:

    What a terrific review! I read Still Alice a couple years ago – it helped me to understand my own mother’s decline due to Alzheimer’s. I too, wanted to buy it for all my friends – and I did! It was my way to help them understand what my mother was going through, and consequently, what we, as her caregivers, were experiencing. It is definitely a must read – a story I reflect back upon frequently to help me understand and to empathize and to remind myself to live and love life fully. I’m so glad you loved the book as much as I did!

  4. Mary says:

    Kim,
    Thanks for the beautiful review. I too was moved by the book and I have been passing the book around to other family members as we are helping our mom deal with her Dementia Alzheimer’s. My mom’s name is Alice and seeing that name in the title of the book is what brought the book to my attention.

    When I send out updates to my family members regarding mom I address the update to “Team Alice”. I close the message by saying
    As always, she is ‘Still Alice’ and we are her ‘team’.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I TO WILL BE GETTING THIS BOOK.i HELPED MY 84 YR OLD FATHER AS HE FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF DEMENTIA. IT IS A LONG HARD ROAD BUT WELL WORTH IT WHEN YOU ARE HELPING THE ONE WHO RAISED YOU IN RETURN.I FEEL BLESSED THAT I WAS ABLE TO HELP HIM AND BE THERE FOR HIM.HE PASSED LAST NOV.2012

  6. Donna says:

    Ordering today and can’t wait to read it. Thank you for suggesting.

  7. Julie says:

    My sister was 51 when she was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s. I’m. 50 and will be 51 in a few months I will for sure be buying this book to read.

  8. Opal Tipton says:

    My husband was diagnosed almost three years ago. A good friend of mine suggested this book and I’m so glad that I read it. It was so true to form in the way the disease works. It was so real to me, with all the problems that my husband has. All real. I would challenge anyone dealing with a loved one with Alzheimers to read this book. It helped me to understand what my husband is going through. I laid it down after reading a couple chapters because it was depressing for me at first. But once I picked it back up, I was so glad I did. Eye opening to say the least. This is not an easy journey we’re on, however, it’s not one we can get out of. My heart aches for my husband……..this is the most insideous disease ever. So read the book. You’ll have a new understanding of this disease.

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