I first saw this book at a digital library last year and it seemed interesting. Recently, a friend of mine who is studying genetic counseling, recommended it and that bumped it up the queue.
I knew very little of the premise before starting the book. I love that the author used a two-fold approach, writing the biographies of both Henrietta Lacks and her cells. It seems that the cells would easily be the star of the book but the Lacks family is incredibly interesting in their own right.
The book begins with the author describing her facsination with the HeLa cells. The cells were ubiquitous in science but very little was known about their donor. So little was known that many believed her name was Helen Lane, not Henrietta Lacks. The author used this as inspiration to learn more.
What follows is a history of the HeLa cells and the Lacks family. The story walks the line between sad and infuriating on both ends of the spectrum. I liked that Rebecca Skloot made herself a character in the story. She seemed honest and sincere while avoiding a revisionist history.
I only gave this three stars but it could have been four. My rating was due to my frustration with the Lacks family which occupied the latter end of the book. I found the history of the cells and the legal ramifications therein to be thought provoking. I wanted to (and did) talk about the book and the moral/ethical issues surrounding donor tissue. I love that the book made me want to discuss it but I couldn’t stand the Lacks family. I wanted to understand them but could not. I have little to no pity for most of them in spite of their ordeal. It seemed, to me, that book wanted to portray the Lacks as victims and I disagree. As a result, I gave the book three stars.