5 Stars Reviews

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

Goodreads summary: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo — to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

I was really excited to read this but apprehensive; I was worried some of the science stuff might go over my head. Skloot’s writing is really accessible though, everything is so well explained. You feel like you’re getting a full enough account of the science behind the story without it being so detailed and complex that it becomes difficult to understand. Henrietta Lack’s story is heartbreaking yet incredible. There was a perfect balance between the science story and the Lacks’ story, and you really get emotionally invested in this family and what they’ve been through since Henrietta’s cells were taken. I’ve told anyone who will listen about how brilliant this book is, and it’s probably one of my favourite reads of the year.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Read for the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge prompt: a previous Goodreads Choice Award winner (won best non-fiction in 2010).

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