The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Questions and Answers
by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
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How does Deborah respond when Skloot suggests photocopying some of Henrietta’s records? Why do you think she responds this way?

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Deborah’s ambivalent attitude toward any research being conducted on her mother is a constant theme in the book. Rebecca Skloot tries hard to understand why the experiences of all the Lacks family members have been like, but she also admits that her life has been so different that she can only partly succeed in imagining what they have endured. Before Rebecca ever asks about permission to copy any records, she has had numerous sessions with Deborah in which the two of them have reviewed documents together. As she continued her research alone, she has also sent any information she obtained to Deborah. When they go together to the Virginia town where Henrietta lived, they stay in a hotel and spend hours going over the records.

Rebecca is persistent in repeatedly asking if she can photocopy the records, and Deborah is equally adamant about refusing. At one point, Deborah loses her temper and slams Rebecca against a wall. At that point, Rebecca also loses her patience and yells and swears at her. Like Rebecca, a reader who did not grow up in similar circumstances is unlikely to understand all of Deborah’s motivations and reactions. Losing her mother as a child and learning huge amounts of new information as an adult that confirm new aspects of loss were clearly very difficult for Deborah to process.

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