The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is almost three different stories that are highly interconnected until they are woven into one cohesive book.
The first story is almost a memoir of the author Rebecca Skloot. She is very much present in the book as most of the present day stories are narrated as her experiences. The experiences may be about her interactions with the Lacks' family but you will finish the book with a connection to the author as much as to the subject of the book.
The second story is the history of the HeLa cells that were harvested from Henrietta Lacks and were grown to finance an entire medical field. These cells have done more for medical history than perhaps anything else. The story is a record of that history. This record is written in a way that is gripping and understandable to individuals who do not have a medical background. Yet it is engaging and through enough to be of interest to even those who have worked directly with these cells.
The third story is a story of Henrietta Lacks and her family. This is a story of a rural African American female whose parents were slaves. It is the story of her daughter Deborah who lacked formal education yet educated herself of anything to do with her mother's cells. When she didn't understand something she would work until she at least had a concept of the idea. The story is about how her family was wronged by the medical community that made millions off her mother's cells yet left her family in poverty. It is the story of how she strived for better for the future Lacks children.
The first two stories were highly fascinating. It is the third story that left the biggest impression as I read this book. I have read about the civil rights movement and accounts of desegregation. No other book put the chronology as clearly in my mind. Rebecca Skloot, who was alive during the early 2000s was the granddaughter of slaves. Within her life she was denied basic human rights. Reading about this family put it into perspective for me better than memorizing dates from any history class had. I wish this book was required reading for everyone.
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