Offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member.



Close-up look at life inside an Alzheimer’s care facility.

When her own mother had the disease, Kessler (Clever Girl, 2003, etc.) placed her in a care facility and visited only reluctantly. Determined to redeem this thoroughly unsatisfactory experience, the author immersed herself in academic research on the subject, then took a job as an attendant in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Although she did not go undercover like Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, 2001), she does provide a similar exposé of the miserable conditions endured by minimum-wage workers, in this case the undereducated, underpaid and overworked women who care for our society’s institutionalized ill and aged. Unlike them, Kessler got to choose her working hours and was not there to earn a living. She wanted to comprehend firsthand what caretakers do, to connect with the residents and to understand their lives. What began as a short-term venture to gather material for a magazine article turned into months of work and observation, now expanded into this full-length narrative. The author’s graphic depiction of a caretaker’s daily routine—bathing, dressing, feeding and taking to the toilet old men and women who are often demanding and uncooperative—makes caring for a newborn seem a breeze. However unsavory the physical chores are, however, Kessler finds the experience immensely rewarding on an emotional level. She connects with these Alzheimer’s patients in a way she never could with her own mother. They make her feel needed, and she can be the daughter she never was, if only for a while. Kessler doesn’t scant the job’s numbing routine and frequent frustrations, but she is ever alert to small joys and simple kindnesses. She learns to accept rather than argue with the patients’ view of reality, thereby soothing their anxieties.

Offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member.

Pub Date: June 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03859-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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