The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a review by Tanya

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
Narrator Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin

13 Hours
Published Feb 1, 2010 by Penguin Random House Audio

I had heard such great things about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks so I signed up for the Audiobook from my Library.  The narration for this book was really well done. In fact, the writing for the book was so well done that it explained such difficult medical procedures and terms in simple language that was so easy to understand. You don’t have to have any medical background to understand all of the different events that are covered.

Do you know those people that faint at the littlest sight of blood?  Well, that’s not me.  Having kids makes you a pro at cleaning up scraped knees, bloody noses, etc.  But when people start talking about medical procedures, tumors, biopsies – my stomach feels like it’s going on a roller coaster, even when I’m sitting comfortably in my chair at home.

Part of this story made me so uncomfortably squeamish that I wanted to stop several times. But I continued on and was fascinated by the amount of work that Rebecca Skloot underwent to put this book together.  So much information to cover that it felt sometimes as if you were bouncing around. A subject that was brought up once would be left until later and then explained in a different section of the book.  I suppose that is appropriate, otherwise there would be just too many sidebars and the story would become stagnant.

One thing that I didn’t understand about this entire book was that the author and the family make John Hopkins out to be this horrible beast.  Yet they were simply studying cells and when those cells were found to live and replicate as they had hoped for, they continued to use them.  Why is that bad? I understand that perhaps that wasn’t Henrietta expected to happen, but I don’t see it as a bad thing.  The fact that her cells have saved so many lives is amazing! Just as the fact that Henrietta and her family have really received no credit is outrageous!  Both of these facts can be true and the last fact can be changed!

The worst part of this whole story, in my opinion, is that the actual bad guy didn’t get the negative attention that he so deserved.  Henrietta was consistently diagnosed with STD’s from her husband’s extra-marital activities.  I’m guessing the uterine cancer, if not directly caused by his activities, surely did not help her experience.  If his actions didn’t directly lead to her severe pain and death, they surely made it worse for her.  I’m baffled that the author made no direct correlation of these events. I’m also frustrated that it seemed to be downplayed in the book altogether.

Overall, the hard work done by the author to bring this book together, the amazing medical advances we all have to be thankful for and Henrietta and her family’s struggle were so interesting to read about. And my weak stomach will be better in a couple of days.


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