This non-fiction book is the story of Henrietta Lacks, made immortal by her cervical cancer cells that were essentially stolen from her and used for medical research without her consent or knowledge. Known only as HeLa cells for many years, the cancer cells divided at such a steady, rapid pace that they were essentially the earliest and most successful cells to be grown in a lab. Since they were so hardy, they were able to be cultivated and shipped around the world and used by researchers to conduct studies and develop medical breakthroughs never before even imagined.
Unfortunately, though, the fact that they were taken from a real person with a life and a family was pretty much ignored. The uncovering of this story by the author became a revelation to both her and to the family and she reveals the impact of this as the story unfolds. There is, in the telling of this injustice, a chronology of sorts of many other injustices and the resultant development of informed consent for medical research. (One horrifying fact this book reveals is that our country had developed laws regulating the treatment of animals in research even before we had laws protecting humans! Imagine that!)
It’s a very personal story, particularly as it relates to Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, and a very public story as it relates to the history of medical research. It does jump a bit from topic to topic and the writing is a bit choppy, but it is a fascinating and honest story nonetheless.