We are excited to announce that each month, starting today, we’ll read, review and discuss a different book with the Literally, Darling Book Club!
How will this work? At the beginning of each month we’ll post the book we’ll be reading together, and this month it’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. There will be a quick synopsis of the story and a couple of discussion questions for you to think about while you read. Throughout the month we’ll check in with you via Twitter or Instagram to make sure we’re all on track! On the last day of the month we’ll host a virtual book club. The discussion questions will be posted again and we’ll all have a chance to talk about our favorite characters, scenes and takeaways in the comments. It’ll be our very own virtual book club, so grab yourself a cup of tea and join us! Each month will be hosted by a different Literally, Darling author and eventually we’ll open up the book selection to you, our readers!
As I mentioned, April’s Book Club pick is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I first heard the story of Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cells on an episode of RadioLab back in 2010 and really haven’t stopped thinking about it since. This story is about a woman who dies of cervical cancer in 1951 in Baltimore, Md. Pieces of her tumor, taken without her knowledge, became the first immortal cells grown in culture. These HeLa cells, as they’ve come to be known, help to create the polio vaccine, various AIDs treatments and really laid the foundation for modern science. Almost 80,000 published scientific papers mention these cells today.
Author Rebecca Skloot talks about the story in the video below:
- One of Henrietta’s relatives said to Skloot, “If you pretty up how people spoke and change the things they said, that’s dis-honest” (p. xiii). Throughout, Skloot is true to the dialect in which people spoke to her: The Lackses speak in a heavy Southern accent, and Lengauer and Hsu speak as nonnative English speakers. What impact did the decision to maintain speech authenticity have on the story?
- As a journalist, Skloot is careful to present the encounter between the Lacks family and the world of medicine without taking sides. Since readers bring their own experiences and opinions to the text, some may feel she took the scientists’ side, while others may feel she took the family’s side. What are your feelings about this? Does your opinion fall on one side or the other, or somewhere in the middle, and why?
- Consider Deborah’s comment on p. 276: “Like I’m always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.” Is it possible to approach history from an objective point of view? If so, how and why is this important, especially in the context of Henrietta’s story?
- Reflect upon Henrietta’s life: What challenges did she and her family face? What do you think their greatest strengths were? Consider the progression of Henrietta’s cancer in the last eight months between her diagnosis and death. How did she face death? What do you think that says about the type of person she was?
Grab a copy of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” at your local bookstore and read along with us, darlings!