CBR12 BINGO: Orange Square (BINGO! Red to Violet)
Nearly four decades after after her death, a young black woman, Henrietta Lacks, captures the imagination of Rebecca Skloot, a sixteen year old budding scientist and writer. After a science class discussion on HeLa cells, and their important contributions to modern medicine, Skloot wanted to know more about the woman whose cancer cells were (and still are) part of many major medical advancements. Who was she? Did she have a family? Do they understand the significant role she plays in the lives of people all over the world?
Unable to shake the image of Henrietta even into adulthood, Rebecca Skloot embarks on a decades long journey interviewing scientists, doctors, family members and friends of the Lacks family. What she found were Henrietta’s now grown children who had very little knowledge about what had happened to their mother. Wary of hospitals and a medical profession that often took advantage of black bodies, Henrietta’s family only knew that someone was profiting from their Mother’s body while they couldn’t afford their own health insurance.
On the surface, this book is an homage to a young black woman whose cancer cells ended her life in 1951 only to go on to help develop life saving medicine in laboratories all over the globe. Skloot, however, delves deeper into the ramifications of the medical research Henrietta’s cells fueled. Bioethics, racism, poverty, public health and family all intertwine to form a more complete picture of the mysterious woman that haunted the author for years.
I am not a science person so the human interest parts of the story were what spoke to me here. While Skloot does delve into the science behind the harvesting and cloning of Henrietta’s cells and their contribution to science, it just serves as a back drop to the story of a family finally learning who their mother was and what her legacy means.