From start to finish, I was thoroughly captivated by Rebecca Skloot’s biography, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot masterfully conveys the heartbreaking story of Henrietta Lacks, a thirty-one year old African-American woman suffering from cervical cancer whose cells were taken for research without her consent. With a magical sensation, I learned that Henrietta Lacks’ cells, dubbed HeLa by scientists, reproduced rapidly and continuously unlike any cells before, resulting in a scientific miracle; however, Skloot stresses the fact that Lacks’ family was not informed about the mystifying HeLa cells as they struggled to survive in poverty, while commercial ventures profited from her cells.
Skloot effectively describes the high racial tensions during the 1950s, with only John Hopkins Hospital available for African-Americans for miles; she also narrates harrowing stories of research conducted on unsuspecting patients, especially African-Americans. She was able to warm the Lacks family’s heart, despite their profound distrust of reporters, by promising to reveal the face behind the name HeLa. With ten years of devotion to writing this book, Skloot not only described the ethical issues behind HeLa cells and scientific cell research, but also emotionally articulated the frustration and story of the Lacks family. Overall, I was amazed at how Skloot evokes so many different emotions from the reader throughout this detailed and interesting 381 page book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who would like to read a breathtaking, informative book about the science and ethics behind cell research. – Saloni S. ’21