The Family Gene by Joselin Linder is everything I wish for in a medically-oriented memoir. Linder blends the science of genetics deftly with her own family’s story. It was so compelling that I flew through the book in just a day or so.
When Joselin is just fifteen, she and her family begin to watch her father die a slow, painful and frankly horrific death. He literally never received a diagnosis for this fatal disease. The family begins to realize that his condition was very similar to two other members of his family, now also deceased. Then his brother dies. Sounds overwhelmingly sad, doesn’t it?
Linder describes her attempts to deal with this ongoing grief and uncertainty honestly and frankly. As a teen and twenty-something she doesn’t always use healthy coping mechanisms, but somehow she manages to move forward in life. This part of the story could have come off maudlin or bitter, but it doesn’t. Linder strikes a balanced, even humorous, tone.
I read one review who wished the book hadn’t had so much “boring” science. Again, I thought Linder used funny examples to lighten the mood. Here’s a passage to illustrate, “DNA is made up of only four nucleotides—one for each color that you see. That’s wild, right? There aware only four of them, just showing up in some different order so that they are making the recipe for “eyeball” or “sit bone” or “hamster paw,”” You’ll have to read the book to understand the context of nucleotides and DNA.
The Family Gene includes plenty of science because the Linders have a top-notch genetic research team on the case. But genetic research into a disease with such a small sample pool takes decades. Linder describes the waiting and wondering beautifully, infusing it with both Zen and angst.
As a young woman she learned that getting pregnant wouldn’t be simple for her if she didn’t want to subject her children to the family gene. As with most medical memoirs, I came away feeling lucky that my life choices were simpler than hers.
All in all, this was a great book. It’s got a compelling true story, a likeable main character in the author, and a quick pace. I heartily (pun intended) recommend.