Standalone Sunday is a weekly feature hosted by Megan at Bookslayer Reads. The name of the game is to focus on standalone books, and give them some love in the day of trilogies and big franchises.
As I read more about scientific studies, the more I’m thankful I live in the 21st century. Until recently, the lack of ethics in the field was shocking. And that’s where the story of “HeLa cells” begins, cancer cells taken from a black woman in 1951 Baltimore.
For decades, the vast majority of scientists who have worked with HeLa have focused solely on their own contributions to scientific research, like developing the polio vaccine, without considering the woman whose tragedy brought forth these miracle cells, Henrietta Lacks.
When she learned about HeLa cells in a science class, Rebecca Skloot, who would later become a journalist, asked herself why no one knew anything about Henrietta, and a few years later went out in search of answers. When Skloot embarked on a journey to find out everything she could about Henrietta and the family she left behind, she didn’t realize how tough (but rewarding) it would be.
I was very dubious if I would like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, because I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction books, especially about science (not my best subject in school). But I’ve heard so much praise about the book since it was published back in 2010 that I finally broke down and gave it a try. Also, the HBO movie gave me extra incentive.
I ended up being deeply moved by the Lack family story, especially by Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, who teams up with Skloot to find the truth. Deborah was still in diapers when her mother died, and was raised by her horrid abusive cousins. The discovery of her mother’s cells comes as a shock, and ends up bringing more heartache than she could imagine.
My biggest issue was with the science side of the story, and trying to keep track of what’s important. My understanding of biology and scientific research is pretty basic, so I was able to follow most concepts, but sometimes it was way too much, and I felt like some of the sections could have been edited down.
I think the personal stories still made this a solid read for me. I would recommend, as long as you don’t mind learning a lot about cell culture.
***By the way, I’m so excited for the HBO movie now: