A Book Review: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was written by Rebecca Skloot. I found this book at our little neighborhood library. The cover reads, “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.” I had to find out more, so I went home, and immediately devoured 60 pages. Lucky for me, it reads like a novel.

When Ms. Skloot was in a community education class at the age of 16, trying to earn high school credit, she learned about HeLa cells. Her instructor “pointed to two diagrams that appeared on the wall behind him. They were schematics of the cell reproduction cycle…” The cells didn’t mean too much to the author at the time. To her they looked like a “neon-colored mess of arrows, squares, and circles with words.” She worried because she’d have to memorize everything on the diagrams. The instructor explained how the cells divide and how important they are. If one little cell misfires, they could start growing out of control. The instructor talked about how scientists learn about cancer by studying cancer cells in culture. He wrote Henrietta Lacks’s name (code name “HeLa”) in capital letters on the board and said “HeLa cells were one of the most important things that happened to medicine in the last hundred years.” The instructor explained how HeLa cells helped develop drugs for treating many ailments and diseases and for also creating vaccines.

HeLa cells were first studied in 1951 when a doctor removed them from Henrietta Lacks and gave them to a lab. It was the first time human cells reproduced in a Petri dish. Scientists had been trying to reproduce human cells for decades, and it never worked. Ms. Skloot asked her instructor if he knew more about the lady who donated her cells, and he said no one really knows anything about her. Ms. Skloot could not believe it.

Ms. Skloot went on with her life and education, where she continued to learn about HeLa cells but learned nothing more about the actual person. Henrietta Lacks stayed in her mind and she was determined to find out more about her life and family. After ten years of research and interviews, her first book was published in 2010 and was instantly a New York Times best seller. Before publication, the author created the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, and some of the proceeds from the sale of the book have been donated by the author to the Foundation.

If you like to read human interest stories that have a controversial theme, you would enjoy this book. I’m not one to read scientific books, but this story held my interest. I wanted to find out what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her family, and her cells. If you don’t have time to read the book, there’s a movie by the same title, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I’m going to return the book to the little neighborhood library, so someone else can learn the story. Did you know about Henrietta Lacks or HeLa before reading this post? 🐢


A Book Review: “Where the Crawdads Sing”

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Kya, also known as “Swamp Girl,” is the main character in Where the Crawdads Sing, which was written by Delia Owens.  The story takes place in a coastal town in North Carolina.  The author does a good job of taking you through the scenes.  It’s as if you are right beside Kya, experiencing her sorrows and triumphs, along with the beauty of the swamp.

One disappointing thing after another happen to Kya, starting when she is very young.  Kya shows us how strong her spirit is and she forges ahead to learn how to take care of herself.  One can’t help but feel a connection to the character and want her life to turn around.  Besides taking care of herself, she learns all she can about the swamp around her.  Kya’s journey helps us learn about birds, mushrooms, insects, tides, sands, shells, and grasses that surround her.

This book is a mystery and flips back and forth from 1952 to 1969, until the years catch up and continue on years after.  The town’s old time favorite quarterback, Chase Andrews, is found dead, and the sheriff and his crew work to figure out what happened.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I thought it started off slowly.  The pace quickly picked up about a quarter of the way through.  The closer I got to the ending, the more I wanted to keep reading!  If you like mysteries and are looking for a book that ends up being a page turner, read Where the Crawdads Sing.  You will not be disappointed.

A Book Review: “The Valley of Secrets”

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Never did I think there would be a day when all the libraries would be closed. 😦   Thankfully, about a month ago, my daughter texted to see if I could find a book for her.  The book could have been in a number of places in our house.  I rummaged around and couldn’t find it, but I did find a few books that looked interesting.  I pulled them out to add to my pile of books to read.  At the time, I thought, This is perfect.  Why not read some of the books that have been hiding away, especially now that the libraries are closed. 

One of the books I happened upon is called The Valley of Secrets, which was written by Charmian Hussey.  It’s a fictional story for teens.  What attracted me to the book was the title, because I thought it sounded scary, and the beautiful illustrations on the cover.  The book was illustrated by Christopher Crump.  The detailed artwork is not only on the cover but can be found at the beginning and end of each chapter.  One thing I enjoyed about this book was I could tell the author took her time crafting this tale.  The writing is very descriptive and gives us much to learn about the Amazon, even though most of the story takes place in the Cornish countryside of England. 

When I first started reading the book, I was sad to learn the main character, Stephen Lansbury, is an orphan and has no friends.  Stephen has a journey, from London to Cornwall, after he learns his great uncle died.  Stephen was surprised to discover he had a living relative.  How sad Stephen did not get to know his uncle when he was alive!  The great uncle left his estate to Stephen.  Stephen is allowed to keep the estate as long as he does not make any changes.  

Mysterious things happen after Stephen finds his way to his new living quarters.  The large estate is surrounded by a fence.  Stephen arrives to find the gate unlocked.  Upon his return from the grocery store one day, the gate is locked, even though Stephen didn’t lock it before he left.  The woman at the grocery store didn’t know Stephen’s great uncle passed away.  Stephen senses the lady is a gossip and doesn’t tell her anything about the whereabouts of his uncle.

Other puzzling things happen.  Stephen feels like he’s being watched.  I wished Stephen would have made a friend or had more human contact.  (I think this was because I was sheltering-at-home.)  It took the turn of many pages before a friend came on the scene.  Before he made a new friend, Stephen spent time reading his great uncle’s journals and exploring the outdoors.  As a teenage boy, it’s no wonder it took him a long while to tour the upstairs of the estate, which I longed to see!

If you are looking for a leisurely read, try The Valley of Secrets.  It’s “An ambitious blend of fantasy, mystery, and ecological adventure” according to the School Library Journal.  People who are interested in the Amazon, the environment, and England would enjoy this book. 

I’m off to read the next book in my to-read pile.  Have you read any good books lately?

A Book Review: “Unbroken”

Say you are going about your busy day, and you start to think about the character in the book you are reading, and you wonder what’s going to happen next. When that happens to me I know that I have found a treasure in that book. The best thing an author can do is enchant the reader into caring about one of the characters. This is what happened to me while I was reading Unbroken, a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. I found that I instantly liked Louis Zamperini, the hero of this story. When I was not reading the book, I felt like I should be because I didn’t want to leave Louie stuck in an awful place. Even though the story was in my mind, I had to keep it moving so that I could find some peace for Louie.

When Louie was younger, he was a little trouble maker, but his brother helped him channel his energy into being a runner. Louie worked hard through high school and became a star athlete by breaking records when he ran the mile. Soon he was off to the 1936 Olympics. I believe that all the stamina that Louie developed as an athlete helped him continue on his journey to survive his trials during World War II and beyond.

I try not to read books that are about war because as Bird, Louie’s arch enemy said after the war was done, “War is a crime against humanity.” It was difficult to read how people treated others during the war. There are very graphic scenes in the book, but since I now had gotten to know Louie, I kept rooting for him and hoping that his situation would get better. I also got to see how compassionate people can be, how they can learn to forgive and move on with their lives.

As you can tell by the title of the book, Louie did not get broken. Louie found a way to save himself, and witnessing his strong spirit could strengthen anyone’s resolve. The life he led is truly inspirational. It’s no wonder this book has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 114 weeks.

If you can, try to read the book before it becomes a movie. The movie is going to be produced this year. Louie, at 96, will hopefully be able to be a part of the production.

You can find details about the movie here:

Now I look forward to see which will be better, the book or the movie?