Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Genre: NF
Rating: ★★★★★
For: Book Club
From: Library book club set

I feel like I'm late to the party with this book. I've been wanting to read it forever, but you've all probably read it already and therefore know how awesome it is.

But just in case, this is the fascinating story of a family whose mother's cells (taken from her cancer tumor in 1951) are the famous HeLa cells that have been growing in research laboratories ever since that day. Those immortal cells have made it possible to discover all sorts of cancer medicines and cures for other diseases and many many other important scientific things.

The best thing about this book, though, is not the science bits, but the human bits. First of all, we truly get to know this lady.. this lady who went unknown for more than 20 years after she made such a contribution to science, if unknowingly. And then, we get to know the terrible impact all this has had on her living family. And you really really feel for them.

In fact, there were a lot of things this book made me feel.

It made me feel sad, especially for the family, who did not at all understand what happened with their mom and what it meant that her cells are now forever living.

It made me feel angry that people didn't stop long enough to explain to them, and to make them feel better by giving recognition to their mom.

It made me feel really really angry when after Henrietta died, her kids were handed over to an abusive aunt who pretty much proceeded to destroy the life of the baby.

It made me feel grateful to the author for tackling such a subject and making it readable and understandable and like I said above, so human.

It made me feel proud of the smart people, who even though they may have gone about it in the wrong way, are able to take cells and figure out things that will help us all. The science is actually very cool.

It made me feel creeped out to learn that they save all sorts of things that they take from or off our bodies and keep them just in case! EWWWW!!

It made me feel interested and invested because it was like the author became a character in the story and we were there right along with her discovering all the things.

It made me feel happy for having finally read it!

Bottom line: I loved this book! If you haven't read it, do put it on your pile and do NOT be scared of the science of it, because it is very well done as far as making us "normal" people get it.

Other Reviews:

Where The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks shines is with the personal stories and history of the Lacks family. From Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity

Skloot is a gifted science writer who has the ability to explain what this story means effectively and colorfully. From Sophisticated Dorkiness

The story itself wrenched my heart, while at the same time educating me on so much, which is a difficult balance to pull off. From Avid Reader's Musings

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of those books that came with extremely high expectations, almost always certain to leave me at least a little disappointed no matter how good the book is. This book was an exception; it is every bit as good as I was hoping. From Lit and Life


  1. My mother adored this book. And she kept telling me to read it and I never did. I am going to have to borrow this from her pronto!!


  2. :-( Now I feel bad I didn't get to it. One day.

  3. I love books that make you feel, but this books sounds a little disturbing to me. I don't know if I'll read this one.

  4. I did read it, and I did think it was awesome :) I'm glad you did too!

  5. It sounds very good. You just bumped it up a little higher on my TBR list.

  6. This is on my TBR List and our book club's list too. Our library does book club kits as well. We are reading Sarah's Key right now and just picked up the kit for Wicked tonight. Looking forward to Bloggiesta!

  7. I have really been wanting to read this one! I really need to make it a priority actually!

  8. I really loved this book, too. Skloot did a really good job of making it a human story as well as a science story - which often doesn't happen in popular science books. On the other hand, I DID question the ethics of Skloot pushing and pushing and pushing until she finally got someone to agree to talk to her.

  9. I actually just read this recently too :) I agree with you that the science was very well done, with lots of really good metaphors. It seems like even someone with no background in science could probably get through this pretty easily.

  10. Just wanted you to know that Mr. Lawrence Lacks just release his single on amazon, the pictures are amazing!!

    “HeLa Family Stories: Lawrence and Bobbette,” is a short (11,750 word), collaborative memoir that marks the first time that members of the Lacks family have directly presented their own stories, from their own perspectives, in print to the reading public. This fascinating, first-hand look from inside the family of Henrietta Lacks will interest anyone who wants to learn, or learn more, about Henrietta and HeLa cells.

    Lawrence Lacks was only sixteen years old when his mother, Henrietta Lacks, suffered a rapid and painful death from cervical cancer in the “colored ward” of Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. More than two decades later, Lawrence and his wife Bobbette learned that the unique cancer cells responsible for Henrietta’s death had been harvested from her body, cultivated in a Johns Hopkins laboratory, and distributed to researchers around the world as "HeLa" cells.

    Lawrence’s memories, which include firsthand descriptions of daily life with his mother, Henrietta, are interwoven with Bobbette’s recollections of her own youth and of her attempts to save Lawrence’s motherless younger siblings from an abusive environment. Together they provide a new and vivid picture of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who brought HeLa cells to the world, and the struggles of the family she left behind.

    Hope Lacks
    Lacks Family Hela Foundation



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