The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about the immortal cell line, HeLa, and it’s progenitor, Henrietta Lacks. The books switches between the two topics, with each chapter alternating between Henrietta’s early life up until she discovers that she has cervical cancer and the story of her cells. I thought that both stories were interesting to an extent.

Halfway through the book, however, the HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks are phased out almost entirely in favor of describing the author’s exploits with Henrietta’s surviving daughter, Deborah, who is psychotic and self-destructive to the point that I would have stopped reading if it hadn’t been for a school assignment. Skloot also spends an excessive amount of time talking about “writing her book”… in her book, making it essentially half a book about writing a book, and half a genuinely interesting scientific story interspersed with human moments. For all that she talks about Henrietta Lacks, the book may as well have been called The Immortal Life of Deborah Lack’s Mother.

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