Lisa Genova, 2011
Simon & Schuster
Sarah Nickerson is like any other career-driven supermom in Welmont, the affluent Boston suburb where she leads a hectic but charmed life with her husband Bob, faithful nanny, and three children—Lucy, Charlie, and nine-month-old Linus.
Between recruiting the best and brightest minds as the vice president of human resources at Berkley Consulting; shuttling the kids to soccer, day care, and piano lessons; convincing her son’s teacher that he may not, in fact, have ADD; and making it home in time for dinner, it’s a wonder this over-scheduled, over-achieving Harvard graduate has time to breathe.
A self-confessed balloon about to burst, Sarah miraculously manages every minute of her life like an air traffic controller. Until one fateful day, while driving to work and trying to make a phone call, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In the blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her jam-packed life come to a screeching halt.
A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of her world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her, including her formerly absent mother. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future.
Now, as she wills herself to regain her independence and heal, Sarah must learn that her real destiny—her new, true life—may in fact lie far from the world of conference calls and spreadsheets. And that a happiness and peace greater than all the success in the world is close within reach, if only she slows down long enough to notice. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—November 22, 1970
• Education—B.S. Bates College; Ph.D, Harvard University
• Currently—lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Lisa Genova is an American neuroscientist and author of fiction. She graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude from Bates College with a BS degree in biopsychology and received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University in 1998.
Genova did research at Massachusetts General Hospital East, Yale Medical School, McLean Hospital, and the National Institutes of Health. She also taught neuroanatomy at Harvard Medical School fall 1996.
Genova married and gave birth to a daughter in 2000. Four years later she and her husband divorced, and Genova began writing full-time. To hear Genova tell it:
When I was 33, I got divorced. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for four years, and I planned to go back to work as a health-care industry strategy consultant. But then I asked myself a question that changed the course of my life: If I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? My answer, which was both exciting and terrifying—write a novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s (Cape Cod Magazine.).
In 2007 she self-published her first novel, Still Alice, which went on to became a major best seller and award winning film. Since then, Genova has written three other fictional works about characters dealing with neurological disorders.
Genova's debut novel follows a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice Howland, a 50-year-old woman, is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned linguistics expert. She is married to an equally successful husband, and they have three grown children. The disease takes hold swiftly, changing Alice’s relationship with her family and the world.
Self-published, Genova sold copies of the book out of the trunk of her car. The book was later acquired by Simon & Schuster and published in 2009. It appeared on the New York Times best seller list for more than 40 weeks, was sold in 30 countries, and translated into more than 20 languages.
The book was adapted for the stage by Christine Mary Dunford and performed by Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company in 2013.
A 2014 film adaptation starred Julianne Moore as the lead and co-starred Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, and Kate Bosworth. Moore won an Oscar for Best Actress.
♦ Left Neglected (2011)
Genova's second novel tells the story of a woman who suffers from left neglect (also called hemispatial or unilateral neglect), caused by a traumatic brain injury. As she struggles to recover, she learns that she must embrace a simpler life. She begins to heal when she attends to elements left neglected in herself, her family, and the world around her.
♦ Love Anthony (2012)
Offering a unique perspective in fiction, this third novel presents the extraordinary voice of Anthony, a nonverbal boy with autism. Anthony reveals a neurologically plausible peek inside the mind of autism, why he hates pronouns, why he loves swinging and the number three, how he experiences routine, joy, and love. And it is the voice of this voiceless boy that guides two women in this powerfully unforgettable story to discover the universal truths that connect us all.
♦ Inside the O'Briens (2015)
In her fourth novel, Genova follows Joe O'Brien, a middle-aged Boston policeman diagnosed with Huntington's. There is no cure, and the disease is progressive and lethal. The story revolves around the fallout on Joe's family, including his daughter who is at risk for carrying the genes.
TV and film
Since her first novel was published, Genova has become a professional speaker about Alzheimer's disease. She has been a guest on the Today Show, Dr. Oz, CNN, PBS News Hour, and the Diane Rehm Show. She appeared in the documentary film To Not Fade Away. It is a follow-up to the Emmy Award-winning film, Not Fade Away (2009), about Marie Vitale, a woman who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 45. (Adapated from Wikipedia. Retrieved 4/6/2015.)
In neuroscientist Genova's second novel (after Still Alice), a car crash gives a successful younger woman an obscure neurological syndrome called Left Neglect. Upwardly mobile Sarah and Bob Nickerson live in suburban Massachusetts with their three small children. Both work 60-hour weeks, though the economic downturn looms. When Sarah wakes up eight days after crashing her car on the way to work, the doctors inform her of her condition, which causes her brain to ignore the left side of everything, and she begins a long and uncertain recovery. Genova vividly describes Sarah's fear and frustration about a recovery that may never come, turning her struggle into a lesson in forgiveness, acceptance, and adaptability; insights reveal themselves with extreme clarity, and small moments between Bob and Sarah illustrate his stalwart love, though readers may want a more thorough investigation of his growing role as caretaker, and as a character. More accessible than her somber first book, which dealt with early-onset Alzheimer's, the central condition causes readers to wonder what brain disease she will think of next.
With a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Genova brings an expertise to this novel about a woman suffering from a little-known neurological syndrome. Sarah Nickerson is a high-powered business executive, juggling 80 hours of work, marriage, and life with three young children. Following a car accident, she wakes up to learn she's suffering from brain damage, a syndrome called left neglect that leaves her unable to feel or see anything on her left side. As she struggles to recover, Sarah also copes with other aspects of her life "left neglected" owing to her busy lifestyle: her relationship with her mother, her son's inability to concentrate, and her own quality of life. Once again, the author of Still Alice, a best-selling debut about a woman dealing with early onset Alzheimer's, has created a character with a compelling voice and perspective in a moving story that shows how brain trauma forces people to change their lives. Verdict: This is a positive novel about hope and strength that should find a market with those who appreciate contemporary women's fiction and readers who either are coping with brain disorders or have family members with these conditions.—Lesa Holstine, Glendale
Neuroscientist Genova (Still Alice, 2009) once again personalizes an actual disabling brain condition to create irresistibly readable and moving fiction. —Michele Leber
1. Is Sarah better off at the end of the novel than at the beginning? If so, in what ways?
2. Sarah has a series of anxious dreams in the nights leading up to the accident. How would you interpret these dreams? What do you think her subconscious is trying to tell her?
3. Is Sarah a better mother before or after the crash? How do you think she would answer that question? Consider the amount of time she spends with her kids, her ability to keep track of them, and the level of participation in their lives.
4. The second time Sarah and Bob meet with Charlie's teacher about his progress in class, they learn that he is the target of some bullying. Ms. Gavin tells them many children experience this whether or not they have disabilities. Do you agree with Charlie's teacher? Do disabilities like ADHD make a child more of a target than other kids?
5. Sarah's Type A personality seems like it should help her through her physical therapy, but her friend and therapist Heidi believes she needs to stop trying to "win" and learn how to "adjust." Do you agree? Do you think by adjusting to her new limitations, Sarah holds herself back from a quicker recovery?
6. If Sarah had recovered completely, do you think she would have gone back to her high pressured job at Berkley Consulting?
7. While Sarah is in the rehabilitation hospital, she and Heidi trade watches, even though Sarah's is clearly the more valuable of the two. Toward the end of the novel, Sarah notes that Heidi is still wearing her expensive watch, but never asks for it back. Why do you think she doesn't reclaim her watch?
8. After Sarah's accident, Bob uses his cell phone at least once while driving in the car with Sarah and their kids. Why do you think he does that? Do we sometimes make exceptions for ourselves and do something unhealthy or risky in the interest of saving time or getting more done (like texting or using a cell phone while driving) even when we know it is dangerous? Why do you think that is?
9. At one point Bob argues that he doesn't think Vermont is a place to live full time when they are young. He sees it as a place to spend their retirement. Do you agree? What are the benefits of living and raising a family in a suburban setting versus a rural one?
10.Which character do you identify with the most? Which the least? Who is your favorite?
11.Is Sarah's mother's response to Nate's death understandable or unreasonable?
12.What did Sarah miss out on by having such a withdrawn mother? If her mother had been more available, do you think Sarah would be as high achieving?
13.Sarah's trauma gives her a chance to reconnect with her estranged mother. Why is it so hard for Sarah to forgive her mother?
14.Can working mothers really have it all—a successful career, well-adjusted children, a great marriage, a sense of well-being, and personal happiness? Or is that a myth? Does something always have to give?
15.Sarah's work/life balance before her disability is weighted toward work, whereas after it is weighted toward her family. How would you categorize your own work-life balance? Does Left Neglected make you reconsider any of your career decisions?
16.The back cover states that the novel is "about what we ignore and neglect in ourselves, in our families, and in the world around us." What do you think you are neglecting in your life? Yourself? Your relationships? Your home? Your job?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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