About The Immortal Life of Henrettia Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the One Read book selection for the 2015 – 2016 school year. It chronicles the life and afterlife of a poor black tobacco farmer named Henrietta Lacks, also known as HeLa to the scientific community.

HeLa was the name given to her cell culture, which was taken from her without her knowledge or consent in 1951. This cell culture was the first successfully immortal cell line, meaning it could divide an unlimited amount of times.

Her cells were used, among other things, to

  • help test the first polio vaccine
  • map the human genome
  • develop in vitro fertilization techniques, and
  • research human cloning.

Despite all of this value provided from something taken from her without her knowledge or consent, something that produced tremendous notoriety and profit for others, neither Henrietta nor her family, who continues to live in poverty to this day, received any compensation.

The DNA of the book consists of two story-strands, one tracing Henrietta and HeLa's story and the other tracing Skloot's investigation. Interwoven throughout both strands are themes of

  • race,
  • poverty,
  • history,
  • chemistry,
  • biology,
  • ethics, and — ultimately —
  • justice.

As such, the book has something to offer to students, faculty, and administrators alike in multiple disciplines. It is both an exciting and engaging read.