02 May 2011

Trip to Clover, Virginia

Over the weekend, I finished Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010). As my mother and I discussed it last night, we agreed that it was a story that neither of us could put down. One of the aspects that we found so appealing was that one of the settings was so close-to-home. Henrietta Lacks grew up in Clover and loved it; even when she moved to Baltimore, Skloot describes how she would return to Southside Virginia most weekends.

Rebecca Skloot. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2010.

photo from The Baltimore Sun

Rebecca Skloot's book is centered around the simple act of a Johns Hopkins doctor taking tissue samples from a sick woman in 1951, but this fascinating story goes much deeper than describing what happened in a lab sixty years ago. Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge or consent, was a poor, young mother of five whose body was riddled with cancer. In the decades since her death, her children tried to come to terms to life without their mother. At the same time, scientists and doctors benefited, sometimes financially, from the information that they received from her DNA and cell line, known as HeLa. What made her HeLa cells unique was that they were immortal, which means that they multiplied rather than died like most cells. Because of this, scientific research could be performed that saved many patients' lives. Still, was doing so without any recognition or compensation fair to Henrietta and her family? As Skloot investigated this qyestion, she realized how important it was to tell the story of Lacks and her children. This work - part non-fiction, part memoir - delves into such issues of history, race, poverty, class, and medical ethics.

Find The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in the Charlotte County Library catalog.

Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Please share your opinion about the book and this summary.