Monday, November 22, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I might as well quit starting off so many posts saying that although I don't usually read nonfiction
. . . . because I realize how many books I've read this past year have been nonfiction. This latest, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, is a fascinating blend of science and biography of an African-American woman whose contribution to the world of science and medicine--although without her knowledge--has worldwide impact.

While she was being treating for cervical cancer in 1951, doctors harvested some of her cells and discovered that they continued to grow prolifically. Since then, they've been sent into space and have been used in studies not only related to cancer but polio and HIV. While the cells have been sold commercially to labs throughout the world, Lacks' own family didn't even know about the cells for many years, although they were living in poverty with numerous health problems.

Skloots first heard about Henrietta's cells (identified as HeLa cells) while in school and began a quest of many years to tell the story, breaking down barriers of resistance in Henrietta's family, to learn about the real woman. Skloots' style, blending science and narrative, created a fascinating story with the pace of a novel. I was as fascinated to see the picture of Henrietta's cells (above) as her grown children were.

As a side note, I was glad to see the book made the short list of titles on Carol Jago's"Intrepid Reader" at NCTE this weekend.

No comments: