Book Review Countdown #6: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I had read an excerpt of this book in O magazine a couple of years back and remember being fascinated, but life got in the way of me tracking the book down. Then, in a a book universe twist of fate, I saw a well-worn paperback copy on the shelf in my friend’s guest room in Yellowknife in September when I was there to launch my book. I started reading it there and was completely hooked and luckily my friend had already read it and released it to my care. I kept reading it through my travels to Whitehorse and back home to Edmonton, where I may have neglected my family a bit to finish it.

This is one of the best books I have ever read – full stop. I was captivated by the narrative, dialogue, and the honesty of Skloot and the people she wrote about in this creative nonfiction look at the life of one woman, Henrietta Lacks, and the immortal cells her cancer provided for the world. The author adeptly shows how intertwined race, science, medicine, ethics, and culture are – and how we as writers are part of the story of every article, book, or piece we create. Skloot’s empathy is palpable for all the people involved but she never lets anyone off the hook for their actions (including herself). It’s no wonder this has received so many accolades; they are all richly deserved.

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