The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Reflection #2, Chapters 8–17)

In this section of reading, a few chapters in particular stood out to me — chapters nine and ten. In these chapters, Rebecca Skloot highlights how friendly people were to her while she was trying to figure out the true story of Henrietta Lacks. Strangely enough, the only people who did not show her kindness were Henrietta’s immediate family (excluding Deborah, because was only not talking because she lacked permission from the men in her family). Sonny had planned to meet with Rebecca, but he never showed up to pick her up, saying that he had changed his mind. This is shedding light on an integral part to the story, that Henrietta’s (immediate) family had been completely shortchanged in the use of HeLa cells and caused them to lose most compassion with anyone they weren’t close with that wanted to know about Henrietta and her cells.

I noticed this the first time I read the book, and it is just as prevalent the second time reading the book. In her writing, Skloot uses little to no transitions when she moves from a chapter that took place in 1940’s to 1950’s when Henrietta was alive, to modern day when she was trying to get accurate information on Henrietta’s life. In certain circumstances it can cause suspense, but while reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks it just made the chapters seemed slightly ill placed and choppy. Something else about Skloot’s writing that has stood out to me is the high use of detail, and it is consistent both in modern times and while Henrietta was alive, despite her not being there. For me, it creates an intimate feel that truly pulls me into the book.

Before reading the book, I had heard of how much HeLa cells had done for medical advances, but it was never really put in perspective. Rebecca Skloot uses specific examples in her book, and uses them to her advantage. One of the more major things that HeLa cells have done is help cure polio. An industrial amount of cells were needed to test the vaccine that had been made, but until HeLa cells that had never been done before. Without her cells, approving the polio vaccine would have taken much longer and many more people would’ve been afflicted with the sickness. By showing the reader what momentous things Henrietta’s cells have done, she is again trying to prove how unappreciated Henrietta and her family were.

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