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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot

310 pages

Setting: This nonfictional story takes place from the 1950’s to 2009 in a black community in Baltimore, Maryland. During the time of the 1950’s there was still hard tension between the blacks and the whites, therefore both races were treated differently.

Characters’ Description: Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American who lived in Baltimore with her husband David, her cousin, and her four children. In the beginning of the story she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had to endure many painful treatments. However, when she was being treated in Johns Hopkins Hospital, her doctor took a sample of her cervix for a study he had going on at the time.

Deborah Lacks: Deborah Lacks was one of Henrietta’s children and second daughter. Deborah was about four years old when her mother died, consequently she doesn’t remember much about her. Throughout the story Deborah is trying to fight for the recognition of her mother because she was upset at the fact that so many medical advances have been made without anyone knowing who they had to thank for all those cures.

Rebecca Skloot: Rebecca Skloot is the author of the story and follows Deborah through the discovery of her mother. She not only helps Deborah find out her her mother was, but helps Deborah through many family problems like through the discovery that her older sister was killed when she was just a toddler.

Beginning: In the beginning of the story, Henrietta Lacks begins to experience pain in her cervix, but doesn’t think much of it because she had just come out of labor. Months later, she decides to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital where there was free treatment for blacks and whites, but were treated separately. There, Henrietta was treated and diagnosed with cancer in her cervix and in the process, her doctor took a sample of it for an experiment he had going on at the time. The experiment was to see if he could grow multiple cells from one that came of a female. In 1999, Rebecca Skloot begins to gain interest on the Lackses and their history, therefore she gets her hands on the family’s contacts.

Middle: In the middle of the story, Rebecca tries to get in contact with the Lackses, but finds it hard to do because they shut everyone down. After about a year trying, she was finally able to contact Lawrence, Henrietta’s oldest son, Sonny, Henrietta’s second oldest son, Deborah, and Zakariyya, Deborah’s youngest son. We also learn more about Henrietta’s children after her death. For example, her children were left under the care of two people named Gale and Ethel, who abused her children. Gale made Zakariyya stand alone in the basement on one leg and had Sonny, Lawrence, and Deborah do Ethel’s chores. In the meantime, Gale had raped Deborah on many occasions but didn’t say anything. In the middle of



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