Book to Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Stars: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Synopsis: A woman with cervical cancer in the 1950s goes under radiation treatments at Johns Hopkins University. Parts of her cervical tumor were taken during procedures for scientific purposes and referred to as “HeLa”. Many years after her death, her family finally comes to discover that their wife, mother, sister, cousin was HeLa, Henrietta Lacks. This chronicles the journey of reporter and author Rebecca Skloot and her discovery of the details of Henrietta’s life, death, and the lives of her surviving family.
Review: I have wanted to read this book for a long time. The subject has always seemed super interesting to me – a woman with cancer, stolen cells, no recognition, and the mystery behind the true identity of HeLa? The making of a good book in my eyes!
And I was really glad to not be disappointed. The characters (read: real people!) all had interesting stories. They all felt differently about HeLa’s contribution to science. (note: referring to HeLa the cells, not Henrietta Lacks here!) They also all had different ideas about what HeLa meant – some thought “she cured xyz!” others understood that just her cells were helpful to treating/understanding diseases better, like cancer, polio. or AIDs.
It was nice to be able to put a “human” face on someone who contributed something so valuable to science, and also hear the story of Deborah/”Dale”. She was Henrietta’s youngest daughter, and the one who I really enjoyed reading about the most. She put a fun spin on a potentially boring topic, and I really felt her personality shone through in Skloot’s writing.
Overall, this book was quick read for me because I really liked the subject and writing style. There was enough science to be interesting and make me feel as if I was learning something, but not too much so that I was turned away. I would highly recommend this book!