Henrietta Lacks is immortal. She didn’t aim to be immortal, she just wanted to get better. She knew she was sick, and when she went to Johns Hopkins one day for a biopsy on a ‘knot inside her’ the doctor took a slice of her cervix tumor and give it to a lab at the hospital that was collecting cultures. Henrietta was the mother of five, receiving free medical care for aggressive cancer when those cells were taken without her knowledge or her consent. But to researchers, they were a medical miracle because for the first time ever, human cells grew in lab. And grew, and grew, and never stopped growing. Something no other human cells had done before. Those cells are used almost everywhere in every type of research, and are known to researchers everywhere as the famous (and infamous) HeLa cells. But what about the woman behind those cells? What happened to her family after she died from cervical cancer? What about the issues behind those cells? Consent, family, money, emotional turmoil, and life-saving advances in medicine are just some of the things that Rebecaa Skloot tackles in her book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
Ms. Skloot moves effortlessly through the tale of a woman from the tobacco fields of rural Clover, VA to the cell laboratories of John Hopkins, to Henrietta’s five children and their lives in Baltimore. But be prepared- there is lot of heartbreak in this book, plus the triumph and wonders of science. Above it all Henrietta remains a heroine, and an unlikely medical marvel.
On to my rating system, make no mistake I LOVED this book, but maybe I have a personal connection. I live in Baltimore and have used the Johns Hopkins systems regularly. It is an institution to revered and respected, and even sometimes feared. So I wasn’t sure you would love it, therefore even though this is a fave for me- for you I am giving it a slightly less rating. (This is also partly because it is only available in hardback at the moment, and, as we know, hardbacks aren’t cheap).
And now to my rating system:
Buy it NOW!– this is reserved for the best books
Paperback on an Airplane– It’s a good read, but if you leave it in the seat, you won’t be crushed.
Borrow it– From the library or from a friend, that way if you don’t like it or don’t find it especially moving, as I suspect you might, you won’t have spent your hard earned money on it.
Wait for the move– The book is awful, but it might make a great film.
Skip it altogether– I hated it, I think you will too.
For The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks– I am going with Paperback on an Airplane
For Kindle users- Download
You can buy the book here.
What’s coming next?
I’m currently reading When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub.