An informative and moving recollection, despite some overly precious prose.


A woman recounts a decision to pre-empt cancer by surgical means.

In 2008, debut author Shainman’s older sister, Jan (whom she affectionately calls “Sista”), was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. After several rounds of chemotherapy, Sista’s cancers went into remission, but at a later conference on ovarian cancer, she learned she was especially vulnerable to a recurrence. She underwent genetic testing that revealed that she was “BRCA1 positive,” meaning she had a genetic mutation that significantly increased the chances of contracting breast or ovarian cancer. Shainman quickly decided to get tested, as well, and discovered that she also carried the mutation. This presented her with an achingly difficult choice: Should she strategically choose to undergo prophylactic surgical procedures (bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, and hysterectomy), or take her chances, and avoid elective, risky operations? The author’s remembrance is unconventionally eclectic; she includes correspondence with friends and family, journal entries and text exchanges, and a lengthy discussion of her view that she’s gifted with a type of emotional “telepathy.” She chronicles not only her own struggle and her sister’s plight, but also her husband’s work colleague’s cancer fight. Also, as her family’s historian, she determines that her paternal grandmother, Lillian, certainly died from breast cancer. Shainman’s memoir is poignantly inspirational throughout; she later writes that she eventually became an advocate for BRCA awareness, and even executive-produced a movie about it in 2015 called Pink & Blue. In addition, she provides sensible information about medical due-diligence, especially involving genetic testing. However, her prose can be cutesy at times, as when she sizes up her anchorman husband’s co-worker: “So, this dazzling woman is whom my husband has been hanging out with on the news set in the middle of the night and early morning? Argh!

An informative and moving recollection, despite some overly precious prose.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4808-6708-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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