Saturday, April 14, 2012

Crime and Cells...

Finally got around to reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks after hearing about it almost two years ago. Skloot, the author, is sitting in a college class trying to get credit for a biology class that she's in because she failed out of public school for non-attendance. It's during this fateful class that she learns about Henrietta Lacks but what she learns about Lacks is more of a footnote than anything else.

The blurb on the cover says a lot:

Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi-million dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.
Skloot gets an introduction to the family via Roland Pattillo who was the sole African-American student of George Gey, the one who initially cultured Lacks' cells. Here's a portion of one of Pattillo's first conversations with Skloot:

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are white."
"Is it that obvious?"
"Yes," he said. "What do you know about African-Americans and science?" (50)

Good question...

I'm definitely glad that I read the book but there were many sad elements including the fact that Henrietta Lacks' cancer cells "spread like crabgrass" and "seemed unstoppable" (41)

After learning more about her mother who died at 31, Deborah Lacks decides to go to school so that she'll be better equipped to understand the information that she's been given but there's a roadblock in her way:

"...Cause there's nothin to be scared about with my mother and them cells. I don't want nothin to keep me from learning no more." But in fact there was something that would keep Deborah from learning: she didn't have enough money. Her social security check barely covered her living expenses..(301-302)
And Deborah is not the only Lacks descendant who faces financial obstacles. Her son, Sonny, has a quintuple bypass and because he has no insurance, ends up with $125,000 worth of debt which shouldn't be the case when clones of his mother's cells (HeLa) go for $167 dollars a vial...

* * *

Also read In The Woods, a Brandi recommendation -- sort of. Brandi actually recommended the sequel but I had to check out Tana French's debut book first.

About 200 pages into the book, I wondered whether or not I was diggin' it then all of a sudden, the book picked up. I think part of my ambivalence was due to my fatigue with crime novels. I was on quite the Patricia Cornwell trip for a while...

Here's one of my favorite passages from Into The Woods. It's about exercise. Are you surprised?

I sent Cassie a text saying I wasn't feeling well enough for dinner at her place; I couldn't bear the thought of all that solicitous tact. I left work just in time to get home before Heather -- she "does her Pilates" on Monday evenings -- wrote her a note saying I had a migraine and locked myself in my room. Heather tends her health with the kind of tenacious, minute dedication some women devote to flower beds or china collections, but the upside of this is that she accords other people's ailments the same awed respect as her own: she would leave me alone for the evening and keep the sound on the television down. (211)


  1. I heard about Lack's story on NPR early this spring...It's a riveting story.

  2. It is...

    Now, I want to take a look at vlogs that people have made about Lacks' story.