I read this book in May of this year after becoming fascinated with the world of nonfiction literature. Creative nonfiction, the genre of memoir and literary journalism, is ripe with stories of people – real people and their lives. My dad read this, and as he was reading it, I kept telling myself, I would read it. My boyfriend’s mom read it, and as I watched her read it, I kept telling myself I needed to read it. Time after time I visited the library, only to find it unavailable and checked out.
It was worth the wait, this book.
Published in 2011, this work by Rebecca Skloot chronicles the life, death, and aftermath of Henrietta Lacks and her famed HeLa cells, used in cancer research around the world even today. The work switches perspectives and time periods, continually filling in gaps as they arise and keeping the reader afoot of each new development in the story. Though nonfiction, this work had a strong sense of humanity conveyed through the intimacy developed with the leading characters, the author, and with those who were oppressed by racial policies during the mid-1900s. The medical speak is explained or kept to a minimum, allowing the true story to carry the narrative arc. I sat in disbelief reading passages concerning the medical practices for blacks during the time. And then I realized these problems still exist.
This story, like the cells of Henrietta Lacks, could be multiplied and applied to story after story, revealing the truths of race relations and integration in this country.