Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Rebecca Skloot”

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta_Lacks_(1920-1951)Imagine your mother. I mean, really think about her. The color of her hair, her eyes, the sound of her laugh, what she looks like when she’s angry. And not just a little angry, but REALLY REALLY angry, like, you-stole-her-car-and-filled-it-with-bees-and-drove-it-into-a-lake angry. What makes her laugh? Is it your dad? You? Maybe it’s fart jokes because WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD FART JOKE.

Maybe, for whatever reason, you can’t picture her. Maybe you never knew your mother, maybe you WISH you didn’t know your mother, I don’t know, but if you can’t see your mother, hear her laugh, smell her perfume, INSERT MORE CLICHES HERE, you have something in common with Deborah Lacks, someone you’ll grow to care about when (not if, WHEN…there is no if) you read this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of a poor, black woman who died in the 50s, just riddled with cancer, and the cells she unknowingly donated to science during her treatment. Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment, like so many did, suffering a great deal in the process (seriously, think of how terrible cancer treatment is today and then multiply that by 1000), but her donation to science led to the polio vaccine and a better understanding of the human body.

These cells, called HeLa cells, were taken from Henrietta without consent, and grew and grew and grew and are now present in labs all over the world. It would be years before Henrietta’s children would know anything about this, years before they would know a piece of their mother was still living. Deborah Lacks, who was only a toddler when her mother died, would spearhead this journey, with the help of the book’s author, Rebecca Skloot. Skloot spends countless hours with the Lacks family, compiling interviews, medical history, and family lore, to weave together the story of Henrietta Lacks, who she was, how she lived and died, and how HeLa cells came to be one of science’s most important assets.

It’s been a long time since my high school biology classes, but the way the science is written in this book is so engaging. Skloot presents everything in a matter-of-fact manner, but there’s a tinge of humanity present in every word. After all, HeLa cells may be commonplace in every biology textbook, every lab, every scientist’s brain, but Henrietta Lacks was a human being, first and foremost. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, and someone’s mother. She was SOMEONE, not just cells on a slide.

I was surprised at how strongly this book affected me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. I can’t imagine having grown up not knowing my mother at all, let alone later discovering that some scientist had taken a piece of her and that piece, that living piece of her, was still out there somewhere. There’s a moment, late in the book, when Deborah and her younger brother are invited to Johns Hopkins to look at HeLa cells under a microscope, and Deborah holds a vial of her mother’s cells in her hands, cupping them gently, trying to warm them, and, realizing that this was the closest she’d been to her mother since she was a baby, I had to put the book down for a moment to catch my breath.

This is a story of questionable medical practices, scientific achievement, and how race and consent placed a significant role in both, but mostly, it’s the story of one woman’s quest to know, really know, the mother she’d been robbed of so many years before. The science will hook you, but the humanity will keep you reading.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #27: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I have a perverse sense of what constitutes good beach reading. I tend to stay away from the quick easy reads while sitting under my umbrella. The past two vacations I have spent on the beach I have opted for The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. This review is about Ms. Skloot’s book inspired by HeLa cells and the woman who they came from.


Rebecca Skloot became familiar with HeLa cells, the first immortal cells ever reproduced in a lab during her college days. Finding herself mesmerized Skloot set out to discover the person behind cells. However, she discovers more than she anticipated over the course of several years of research. She discovered the story of Henrietta Lacks, born in the rural south to poor tobacco farmers and the family she created for herself in Turners Station, Maryland.


Skloot attacks the layers of the story by flipping back and forth through time and topics. This non-linear story could at times be confusing if not for Skloot’s perseverance in editing and the use of a timeline at the beginning of each chapter. This book is at once the story of Henrietta’s life, the science and discoveries enabled by the discovery of HeLa cells, and the changes in patient rights over the past 60 years.


This is a heavy, engaging read. Well worth your time.

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #5: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Full Disclaimer: I am about 2 months behind on my reviews. My plan is to review a book a day until I get caught up, but I am fuzzy on some details on the last 8 books I have read. Poopnuggets!
I first heard about Henrietta Lacks and on an episode of Radiolab called “Famous Tumors”. I love, love, love, Radiolab, and I was fascinated by the story, so when I saw the book at an airport bookstore, I knew I had to read it. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black woman in the 1940s. She went to the “colored ward” at John’s Hopkins to receive treatment for cervical cancer. The tumor was removed, and some of the cancerous cells were scraped and preserved, which was routine for the time. The patient gave no consent, nor was it asked. The cancerous cells were then grown in a lab, and they became the first cells that could live independently of a human body.
30 or so years later, Henrietta’s cells are the most used cells in cell research, and their name has been shortened to HELA. Henrietta’s children don’t discover this fact for decades, and when they do, they are very confused. They have little education and at first they think that Henrietta is still kept alive in a lab somewhere. This story is about how her children come to terms that John’s Hopkins “stole” their mother’s cells that that corporations are now profiting from them.
I loved this book! I have been recommending this book to everyone I can. Even though this is a non-fiction novel, it is very engrossing. It reads like a detective novel, treatise on civil rights, a discussion on patient’s rights and doctor/patient confidentiality, and a beginner’s genetics textbook. I couldn’t put it down.
Five/Five Stars

Sophia’s #CBR4 Review #9 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I first saw The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2011) by Rebecca Skloot on my mother’s nightstand. She’s a librarian and often gets word of good books before me. So when I saw it again on the library’s kindle page, I immediately put a hold on it.

I enjoy reading non-fiction because I like to learn new things and understand other people’s lives. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating book for a number of reasons. This book looks into the lives of a very poor, black family in the South, medical research, the development of cellular cultures, and the ethics of taking tissues from patients and the patients’ right to be informed.

Henrietta Lacks is a poor, black woman, whose ancestors were slaves. When she was receiving treatment and dying of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in the 1950’s, scientists took some of the cancerous cells from her tumour. These cells were the first cells that scientists were able to cultivate. Because of the cells’ hardiness, they were used in countless experiments throughout the world. No one in the Lacks family gave permission for this and they did not learn of it until twenty years after her death. The revelation that their mother was spread all over the world affected her children deeply.

Read the rest here.

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