The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Published by Broadway, an imprint of Random House
Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black woman living in Baltimore, a mother of five children, when she died from cervical cancer. Her family had a vague understanding that before her death, she was being treated for her cancer at Johns Hopkins. What her family didn’t know is that the doctors there had taken samples of Henrietta’s cells, without her permission or even her knowledge, to be used in research. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of these cells, but it is also the story of Henrietta’s family and how this one tragic event shaped so much of the rest of their lives.
Upon finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, all I could think was, “why did it take me so long to pick up this book?” I feel like every other person on the planet has read this book and for good reason – it is fantastic. But for that reason, I am not sure what else I can possibly add to the chorus of voices saying how great the book is.
What is so wonderful about what Rebecca Skloot did here is she didn’t just talk about the medical stuff. She gave an extremely well-researched and interesting background on the use of cells, how Henrietta’s were used, the legalities of it all, etc., but it never felt boring or weighted down with facts. Because, in addition to all that, this book is like a biography of Henrietta and her family. What happened to Henrietta had a huge impact on her husband, her children, and grandchildren, and Skloot went to great lengths to develop relationships with her family in order to tell their story. By the end of the book, I truly felt that I knew these people, that their story is one that should have been told long ago and thank goodness Skloot pushed and pushed to get Henrietta’s name out there.
I experienced The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as an audiobook, and I would highly recommend listening to this book. The narrator is Cassandra Campbell, and of course she does a fabulous job (as she always does). For whatever reason, I really enjoy nonfiction in audio and this is a perfect example of that. Definitely recommended!
Overall, I would highly encourage you to pick up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks if you haven’t done so already. It is informative, compelling, and just as good as everyone has been saying! If you are an audio fan, I would recommend listening to the book as well.