Friday, October 14, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Ever heard of HeLa cells? Want to recommend a book to discuss medical ethics in a high school English, Social Studies, or Science class? Here's a great one to start with - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (how did I miss it?). I pulled the review from Titlewave:

Library Journal (December 1, 2009)

This distinctive work skillfully puts a human face on the bioethical questions surrounding the HeLa cell line. Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five, was undergoing treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951 when tissue samples were removed without her knowledge or permission and used to create HeLa, the first "immortal" cell line. HeLa has been sold around the world and used in countless medical research applications, including the development of the polio vaccine. Science writer Skloot, who worked on this book for ten years, entwines Lacks's biography, the development of the HeLa cell line, and her own story of building a relationship with Lacks's children. Full of dialog and vivid detail, this reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled. Verdict While there are other titles on this controversy (e.g., Michael Gold's A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy-and the Medical Scandal It Caused), this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics. Highly recommended. [See Skloot's essay, p. 126; Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09.]-Carla Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

The Young Reader's Edition is slated to be out this month. When I first read a review of this book, I thought it was such an abomination. I can only imagine discussing the subject with teens and how deeply offended they would be for the family of Henrietta Lacks. It would, in fact, make a great book club book and perhaps a service project for raising money for the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. The Foundation raises money for college tuition and various needs of her descendants. If this story couldn't spark a book club to life, I truly don't know what could.

What other books have begun as adult books and a young adult version has been published?

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