My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I had to sum up the book in one word it would be incredible.
The book is actually two stories entwined: that of Henrietta Lacks and the beginning of the HeLa phenomenon and that of the family Henrietta left behind.
The story of the HeLa cell line is more objective as it is based on research and stories from the doctors, scientists and researchers who lived it. However, the story about the Lacks family following Henrietta’s death is a subjective vision as the author grew to love the characters that made up the incredible journey of this book. The contrast between the Lacks family who cannot afford medical bills and the cell research field that grew into a multimillion dollar industry because of Henrietta presented a stark, cold reality of today’s medical establishment.
The whole story does seem slightly unbelievable but believe it, it’s true. There is a huge divide between blacks and whites, rich and poor, educated and uneducated presented in the story and occasionally I had to remind myself that it was not written in the time of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” but the present day. Success depends a great deal on the cards one is dealt and unfortunately Henrietta and her family got some bad cards.
Much of the story of the present day Lacks family revolves around Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s youngest daughter. Skloot does a wonderful job portraying Deborah and bringing her vibrant personality to life. Through Skloot, we see Deborah as a woman desperately seeking the mother she never knew while wading through a system that doesn’t care about individuals. Despite all the wrong turns and all the misinformation, Deborah never gave up, knowing deep within herself that the answers about her mother were out in the world.
With Skloot, Deborah is finally able to attain the information about her family she so desperately longed for and never gave up hope of finding. Though the ending of the book is bittersweet, Skloot was able to weave in optimism and tie all of the events together in just a few short paragraphs.
Overall, I found the book to be an amazing read that was nearly impossible to put down. Anyone with a heart will be able to see the injustices faced by the Lacks family and anyone with a mind will want to prevent something like this from befalling anyone ever again.