KRL picks next One Book, One Community

POULSBO — Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa.

She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells — taken without her knowledge — became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, which traces the story behind this major scientific discovery, is Kitsap Regional Library’s One Book, One Community selection for 2012.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Skloot’s book takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

“We chose ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ for our 2012 One Book, One Community selection because it’s a compelling story that is pertinent to the times in which we live and will provide no shortage of discussion topics,” said KRL’s Collection Manager John Fossett. “It will appeal to the interest of many of Kitsap Regional Library’s regular users and draw in some new patrons as well.”

“When I read the book, I felt a sense of outrage because Henrietta’s family was never informed about what was happening with their mother’s cells,” said Gail Goodrick, KRL’s selector for non-fiction books. “It showed a great sense of indifference to the welfare of the family. … Later on in the book, we learn that similar situations are probably still occurring. I think that should alert every reader to the dangers inherent in medical experimentation without the consent of the patient involved. In addition, the book raises questions about poverty, unequal medical care based on wealth and education, and philosophical questions about medical ethics in general.”

KRL’s One Book selection committee is made up of members of the library staff and libraryadministrators and has representatives from the public as well.

Between now and mid-August, KRL staff will be developing and scheduling a series of programs, films that explore similar themes and book discussions based on "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The programming for One Book, One Community will begin Sept. 15 and be offered at all nine branchlibraries.


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