Category Archives: Glad I read it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Immortal Life HLI was pretty excited to read this book. I had heard about it a couple times so when I found it at a book fair, I grabbed it right up. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.

When Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951, some of the cancerous cells were sent to a lab where they became the first human cells to be kept alive and reproduce on their own. They were called the first immortal human cells. Using the first two letters of her first and last names, they were named HeLa. Because of their incredible growth rate, they were used in medical research around the globe. HeLa cells have been in some way involved in just about every medical advance since 1951.

The rest of this story comes decades later when Henrietta’s family hears that their mother/wife’s cells have been used in all this research. They spend much time and energy worrying if their mother is actually being kept alive somewhere, and also how they can get compensated for the use of her cells after all this time.

So many people have enjoyed this book that if you have planned to read it, you still should! You may enjoy it. But alas, I did not.

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A Pledge of Silence by Flora J. Solomon

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pledgeofsilenceIf you’re anything like me, there are times you are completely unprepared for a book you read. You may have read the description or even a couple reviews to see if it was something that would interest you. But somehow, you manage to gloss over the emotional and traumatic events contained inside. That is, if you’re anything like me.

That’s how it was with A Pledge of Silence. Even with statements such as this in the first chapter: “Margie stepped back into the shadows, wishing she could guide the choices of her young self, but sadly she knew she could not change her fate.” What follows is a journey back in time. We see Margie and her childhood sweetheart, Abe make their college choices. We follow them through the fun times of job seeking and young love. But then, WWII begins, and Abe joins up to be a fighter pilot and Margie is called up in the Army Nursing Reserve and sent to the Philippines to care for our fighting boys over there. The war rages and finally catches up with her. So we watch as she and her fellow nurses become the first U.S. military women to be taken as Prisoners of War by a foreign enemy.

The book is a work of fiction, but the author, Flora J Solomon did her research well, so that it could very closely mirror true events. In fictional novels, you expect a happy ending. However, we all know that real life offers us no such guarantees. Throughout the book, that tension of fiction vs. reality is ever present.

I recommend that you step out of what you know and read this book. It is heartbreaking and hopeful and I think you’ll like it. If you’re anything like me.

Every Day by David Levithan

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“There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part- running to the shoreline, feeling the first cold burst of water on our ankles, reaching into the tide to catch at shells before they ebb away from our fingers. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are wading deeper within it. We stretch our arms wide, as if we are embracing the wind. She splashes me mischievously and I mount a counterattack. Our pants, our shirts get wet, but we don’t care.”

David Levithan

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Every Day had so many great word pictures like this one. So many times, I was caught in the illustrations. The main character had such an appreciation for life. Enjoying details and nuances that so often go unnoticed. The premise of the book is that of someone who wakes each morning in a different body. Never the same one twice. Each morning it must be determined if the body is male or female, kind or unkind, healthy or not. Parents, friends, situations, locations all change daily. Nothing remains the same outside of the mind. Until the day that Rhiannon walks up to him. Suddenly, he wants to be with someone for more than one day. So we follow the adjustments necessary to know and be known by one who inhabits a different reality every day.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. It was unknown. I couldn’t figure out how the author would make it all work out in the end. I was intrigued. But, always accompanying my enjoyment was the social commentary that was a huge theme throughout the book. I’m not a fan of being convinced of things in fiction. I know where to find sermons- in churches. I know where to find lectures- in college. That’s not what I’m looking for in a novel. If I could know that his other books were less about changing the way I see the world around me, and more about telling a story in that voice of his that I enjoyed so well, I would read everything written by David Levithan. As it stands now, though, I don’t think I will.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs

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I downloaded Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself one day when I was browsing the free books on the Kindle. Along with The Baker’s Daughter, this book has gotten me thinking about my role in this world. Am I purposely making myself ignorant of those around me who are in danger? “In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are noble men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them strength and courage to go on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause of humanity.”

In the book, Harriet goes by the name Linda. She was born to a slave woman and in her time, “the child follows the condition of the mother.” If the mother is a slave, the baby is as well, and belongs to the master of the mother. Her story is unique in many respects. She is raised surrounded by her family; she learns to read and write alongside her little mistress; and she acquires freedom for herself and her two children.

While her story has many unique elements, it is bound together with all slaves: past, present, and future, who share the feeling that as one created in the image of God, they should not be owned by another person. When she finally gets her freedom, here are her thoughts, “A gentleman near me said, ‘It’s true; I have seen the bill of sale.’ ‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of a bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his.”

Friends, I feel inadequate to write this review. I could not put this book down. I don’t feel like I should say that I enjoyed it, as it was a chronicle of so many’s suffering. But, every time I was forced to put it down, I grabbed it back up again as quickly as I could. I think you’ll feel the same way about it. Not only will you want to keep reading, I think you should read it. I think it is important for everybody to read this book.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not really the kind of book I typically read. But, Tom Hanks is starring in the movie, so my interest was peaked by that. Then one day, it was for sale in the kindle store for $.25 and I was in.

It is the story of a boy who is trying to cope with the death of his father in the terrorist attack of 9-11-2001.

Woven into the boy’s story are other stories. Some short stories of people who are also dealing with day to day life. Some longer stories of people still dealing with the grief that comes from the effects of war, even far in the past.His father had a meeting in a restaurant in one of the towers near the top when the airplanes hit. The boy comes home to messages from his father on the answering machine. He feels the need to hide the messages from his mother. He is hoping to protect her, but the actual result is a strong sense of guilt, which, when mixed with grief is almost too much for him to bear. He finds a key in his father’s closet that he sees as a quest that his father left for him, so he sets off to find the lock the key fits into, in the hopes that it will be his father’s final farewell to him.
Overall, I think the message of the book could be the importance of communication. Not because the characters in the book were so good at it, but because they were so frustratingly bad. One man does not speak. He communicates when he wishes too, but all too often, he chooses not to. His wife’s only true communication is onto paper in the form of her written life story, but in a format that would be impossible for anybody to read. The boy and his mother barely speak to each other. And he feels that he must keep his quest a secret from her, and she seems content to let him. At the beginning of his quest, he decides that he will answer all of the strangers that he is asking for help, truthfully. As a result, he forms strong bonds with these strangers. I didn’t enjoy the theme of broken families and closer friendships. Although, I suppose that may be because it is such a reflection of our current world state.
The style of the writing was a bit scattered. It was bits of information here and there designed to keep you guessing. I was often wondering if I had missed something. For a long time I couldn’t decide if the boy was making up all of the experiences and people he was encountering. Some of the things that happened seemed a little too unreal. But I suppose that could be another theme of the story, that people are not usually what you expect them to be, and in New York City, you get more crazies than normal.

I am glad to have read this book, but didn’t always enjoy it while I was reading it.

The father tells the son a story about “The sixth borrow.” This modern day fairy tale was one of my favorite parts of the book. On the flip side, I could have been fine not ever knowing so much about the sex life of the uncommunicative married couple. That was my least favorite part.

Do I recommend it to you? I think I do. Not because I enjoyed it so much and I know you will too. But, I think it will be talked about, and I like to be able to be intelligent in conversations. This book and it’s characters are so different from my reality and world view. However, I think that can be an important part of understanding and relating to people who are also drastically different from me.