The Slow Readers Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book read like two books in one. The first half is about HeLa cells, how they’ve changed the medical industry, and Henrietta Lacks background. Rebecca Sklott writes without a biased tone, and that's difficult to do with non-fiction. Towards the end of the first half, discussing the cellular details of HeLa, I lost interest. I like science and chemistry, but I was reminded why I don't love it. However, I did read it through and went past my comfort zone and I’m glad I did. I learned more about the HeLa cells than I have in high school or what any biology class would teach me.

I would never think cells are a “property”, especially when the person’s cells are deceased, but Sloot changed my views. I was angry reading about how HeLa cells were used without the permission of her family but after reading the Sloots unbiased medical view and compassionate view, there is a fine line. You meet Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, and members of the Lacks family. You learn about their anger, their hurt, their resentment, but you also learn their forgiveness. The HeLa cells changed medical history yet the Lacks family couldn't afford health insurance. It also showed the dark side to the medical business (is there a good side??). While Deborah was being treated for the anxiety attacks caused by the HeLa news, she also had to endure conflicting "compliments" from the doctor on how her mother saved lives and yet handed her a hefty bill. Overall the story of Henrietta Lacks was told beautifully in this book. I wish I would have read it earlier or if it was around as required reading for classes, but I’m glad I got out of my comfort zone and read the importance of medical and American history.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is one of the two books for The Slow Readers Book Club.