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Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Chapters 28-30

young adult cancer book club

Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club!  We are reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot! Catch up on Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-6, Chapters 7-9Chapters 10-12, Chapters 13-15, Chapters 16-18, Chapters 19-21, Chapters 22-24, and Chapters 25-27.

Let’s get started!

Chapter 28.  After London.  1996-1999.

This chapter’s main emphasis seems to be the continued, frantic hysteria and fear that Deborah lives through.  Medical community members’ attempts to recognize Henrietta’s contribution brings a false sense of hope to the Lackes family but as attention is drawn to the family, trouble follows.  A con-man infiltrates the family and ends up wreaking havoc on all involved.  A group at Hopkins becomes interested in honoring Henrietta and the Lacks family, only to be scared off by the complexity of the lawsuit and the growing distrust of the University by the Lacks family. Over and over again, Deborah’s lack of education feeds into her fear of the cells and what they’ve been used for since her mother’s death.

– Mallory C

Chapter 29.  A Village of Henriettas.  2000.

The chapter opens with Deborah still not willing to speak to Rebecca a year after their first conversation. So, in the meantime, Rebecca continues her research. With each little find or experience, she continues to phone Deborah to tell her about it in what seems to be a some sort of olive branch to get Deborah to open up and speak to her. Finally, with fiery hostility, Deborah agrees to talk but she seems really unhappy about it and has a list of demands which include monetary compensation. Above all else, she wants people to know the correct facts – her mom’s name needs to be referred to correctly, the number of children she had has been continually referred to incorrectly, etc. I appreciated this part as Deborah is tired of people “using” her mom and having no clue any of the facts about who she was. Once they meet, Rebecca gives Deborah a framed picture of Henrietta’s chromosomes put together by a Hopkins cancer researcher named Christopher. It was his way of sharing with the family his personal feelings of what working HeLa has meant to him. I think it was a way of humanizing the science. This gift opens Deborah up and she wants to see the labs, meet the scientists, hear people’s stories of her mother’s cells helped them, etc. After this, Deborah begins to open up to Rebecca more and they talk daily and it seems there could be the beginnings of a friendship forming. At the end of the chapter, a sharp twist ensues with Rebecca reaching for an envelope she thought was left for her by Deborah that includes Henrietta’s medical records. Deborah snaps at Rebecca for even thinking about reading the contents and seems frustrated by saying she doesn’t know who to trust.

– Dana S

Chapter 30.  Zakariyya.  2000.

Rebecca does an excellent job expressing her concern about meeting Zakriyya. I feel we get a very up-close and personal view of who he is. Through Rebecca’s writing you can feel his hurt and anger, not only with the injustice done to his mother but to personal attacks regarding his criminal background. Zakriyya also captures the grumpy old man stereotype perfectly. I’ll never forget his line, “I think them cells is why I’m so mean.” There is a sense of fear that Henrietta’s cancer cells made him the way he is.

– Morgan N

Thanks for joining us for Chapters 28-30 of  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot!  Join in next Monday for Chapters 31-33.

If you’re just joining us, here are some logistics:

We will talk about several chapters each Monday until the book is done (probably about three chapters since the book has so many).  Then, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss.  Join in, in the comments every week!  At the end, we’ll have a book club discussion via video chat!  Also, there will probably be spoilers.  Read along with us!

How are you enjoying our young adult cancer book club?