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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Skloot, Rebecca
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1. One of Henriettas relatives said to Skloot, If you pretty up how people spoke and change the things they said, thats dishonest (page 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 non-native English speakers. What impact did the decision to maintain speech authenticity have on the story?

2. As much as this book is about Henrietta Lacks, it is also about Deborah learning of the mother she barely knew, while also finding out the truth about her sister, Elsie. Imagine discovering similar information about one of your family members. How would you react? What questions would you ask?

3. Deborah shares her mothers medical records with Skloot, but is adamant that she not copy everything. On page 284 Deborah says, Everybody in the world got her cells, only thing we got of our mother is just them records and her Bible. Discuss the deeper meaning behind this sentence. Think not only of her words, but also of the physical reaction she was having to delving into her mothers and sisters medical histories. If you were in Deborahs situation, how would you react to someone wanting to look into your mothers medical records?

4. 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 familys side. What are your feelings about this? Does your opinion fall on one side or the other, or somewhere in the middle, and why?

5. Reflect upon Henriettas life: What challenges did she and her family face? What do you think their greatest strengths were? Consider the progression of Henriettas 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?

Additional discussion questions from: Random House
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