The first half of this book sped by, but the second half — when the author gets more into the scientific detail of the HeLa cells and everything connected to them — bogs down a bit. I found myself skimming quite a bit through the science.
Also, the family’s story was tough to keep straight. Even though Ms. Skloot focuses around Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, there are just too many extended family members to keep track of — and after wading through all that scientific detail, the multiple family relationships were distracting and all over the place.
Final analysis: Incredible, must-read story. It’s shocking the way human beings will use and abuse one another for their own purposes.
First, a prediction: this book by Rebecca Skloot has Pulitzer Prize written all over it. And rightly so. It’s about America in the early 20th century, race and the horrific treatment of blacks by whites, social class, medical advancement and experimentation, biology, bio-ethics, the legal rights over one’s body, cancer, coincidence, mystery solving, secrets uncovered, and more. And the story — or rather I should say the multiple interwoven stories that touch on all the above themes — is so compelling you can’t put the book down. I started reading it last night and finally (finally!) had to stop on page 68, in the middle of a chapter, because I just could not keep my eyes open any longer.
My book club picked this one, and we’ll be discussing it next Wednesday night. Admittedly, I was disappointed (and a little mad maybe?) when I went to find it at the bookstore yesterday and discovered it was a hardback. “Dear God, it’s not a hardback?” I said to the Borders clerk to finally helped me find it in, of all places, the furthest upstairs reaches of the store under “Biology”. I thought we’d agreed long ago to pick paperbacks, both for the lower price and the lack of heft (harder to read in bed or carry in a purse), but there was the HeLa book, in all its hardback glory. Of course now that I’m into the story, I could care less. I can’t wait to finish this blog post so I can get back to it! Every few pages reveals one thing crazier than the next, and the book is very well structured and written. Kudos to Ms. Skloot — already reviewed so positively in the media — for taking the 10 years necessary to get it done right. You’ve done Henrietta and her family proud.