Monday, March 21, 2011

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is the second book that I read in my 24 in 2011 mission, on the recommendation of a former colleague, Janelle. Having had extensive discussions on the book with her book club, I thought it fitting that my very skilled writer friend do this review.

As a writer and an avid reader, I’ve always believed there are certain books, regardless of the intended audience or genre, that speak to each member of the human race. Although the idea might sound lofty, if you brainstorm briefly, a few titles come to mind—the Bible, Huckleberry Fin, Tom Sawyer, and The Power of Now. Every once in a while in history, an author produces a piece of writing with a message so powerful, there’s no question that destiny played its role. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, along with the story of Henrietta Lacks herself, is destiny’s latest gift to the human race. Not only was it named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010, but it was also the winner of seven literary awards, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Young Adult Science Book Award.

Curious about what makes this book so special? Not only does it tell the story of Henrietta Lacks, a African American woman whose cervical cancer cells have resulted in more scientific breakthroughs than any other cells in history, but in the spirit of Women’s History Month, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also offers readers a peak at the experience of many African American and poor families living throughout the United States during the 1950s. Known by scientists and the public as HeLa, Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells, taken and sold without her knowledge by doctors and researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital, helped develop the polio and HPV vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and much more. Through the book, written with the help of extensive journalistic-style research and countless interviews with doctors, family members, friends, and scientists, the author successfully weaves in the human story, one that’s been missing from the science textbooks and articles highlighting the importance of HeLa. Through this story, Skloot goes beyond the science and instead sheds light on the humanity, or lack thereof, that exists in the world of medicine; a world in which one woman’s cells, even long after she’s suffered what many argue are the injustices many minorities still experience today, have the power to change life as we know it.

No matter who you are, whether a woman, man, scientist, researcher, student, mother, father, brother, sister, or child, please add “Read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot” to your bucket list. I guarantee you it’s something you won’t regret. Stay tuned for Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball’s HBO movie version of this bestseller!

– Janelle Williams
   Writer and Beauty/Skin Care Consultant
   Sign my guest book online at

No comments:

Post a Comment