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Taking on Tough Topics with Love

With an extensive background in the sciences—Genova graduated from Bates College in Maine with a degree in biopsychology and earned a Ph.D. in neuropsychology from Harvard University—the author is well educated on the topics she writes about. And though she covers Alzheimer’s, autism, and other diseases and disorders in her novels, her stories are not filled with medical jargon—nor are they loaded with scientific data associated with the conditions.

Rather, the author combines her past experience as a working neuroscientist with her talents as a writer to create fictional pieces that are both rooted in truth and presented in a way that offers readers a personal experience getting to know someone living with a disorder or disease. “What fictional stories like Love Anthony can do,” Genova says, “is bridge the gap between the scary scientific world and humanity.”

Genova’s first novel, Still Alice, tells the story of a 50-year-old woman who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Genova was inspired to research and write this story by another loved one: her grandmother, the late Angelina Genova. “My grandmother was diagnosed with the disease at 85,” Genova says. “As a neuroscientist interested in biology, I could understand what the disease was, but as her granddaughter, I wanted to understand what it felt like—from the very first symptoms—and how to have a relationship with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease.”

Taking on Tough Topics with Love

Genova’s writing career began in 2004, following a divorce. Faced with the decision of returning to her previous profession, or writing a book she had been considering for some time, she chose the latter. “My daughter was only 4 years old, and I wanted to do something that would allow me to spend time with her,” she says. With the idea for a story about a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease tugging at her, Genova began penning what would become the first of her three best-selling novels.

Getting the book published, though, reads a bit like a Cinderella story. While Genova was naturally passionate about her story, publishers did not immediately share the sentiment. After sending query letters to 100 agents—and receiving nearly as many rejections—Genova says she decided to take a risk and self-publish the book. She gave herself one year to market the novel and find a publisher. “I was selling the book out of the trunk of my car, through word of mouth—anywhere I could,” she says.

Two months before the end of the one-year deadline she had self-imposed to get the book published, The Boston Globe gave the book a favorable review, setting into motion a series of events that led to the novel eventually getting picked up by Simon & Schuster of New York. Still Alice would go on to spend 40 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list, and today there are more than one million copies of the book in print. The novel has earned several awards, including the 2008 Bronte Prize and the 2011 Bexley Book of the Year and has earned praise from writers throughout the publishing industry. Beverly Beckham, a longtime writer for The Boston Globe, wrote the following in her review: “After I read Still Alice, I wanted to stand up and tell a train full of strangers, ‘You have to get this book.’”

In the film version of the story, actress Julianne Moore plays the story’s 50-year-old Harvard University professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “The book has done very well,” Genova says. “I never dreamed it would be as big as it is and that it would be embraced on such a worldwide level.”

Genova recently finished her fourth novel, Inside the O’Briens, which centers on a family living with Huntington’s disease. She lives in Chatham with her family.

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