A stunning story about everyday people combating a brutal history.


A riveting true story of courage and friendship in Jim Crow Mississippi.

With the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act upon us, here’s a story sure to attract attention—deservedly so. It tells the tale of an unlikely friendship between a white woman and a black woman in Mississippi in the 1950s. The story opens with the unjustified arrest of Ella Gaston and her husband, who are pulled over while driving and arrested in front of their children for no other reason than their skin color. Ella is eventually found guilty of intimidating an officer, but the verdict is remarkably overruled by the all-white Mississippi Supreme Court. To ensure that Ella’s future is problem free, her employer and all-around spitfire, Jewell McMahan, takes matters into her own hands; together, they concoct various plans to protect Ella from a retrial. The two stand strong against higher-ranking officials—not to mention an entire culture—dead set on keeping Ella and her race down. Johnson, a journalist, tells the story quite eloquently. She is particularly adept at pacing, which makes for an exciting read. Most impressively, Johnson weaves history into the narrative. Readers learn about Ella’s uneducated, almost hopeless past through an extended piece on the effects of the Civil War: “For its white citizenry, who had lived through the degradation of defeat without much bloodshed in their own backyards, the bitter determination to maintain the ‘Southern Way of Life’ remained a motivating cause for over a hundred years.” But Johnson doesn’t merely rely on generalization; readers also learn about various different pockets of the South and how they could determine one’s outlook. While raised in Kentucky, for instance, Jewell had had very little contact as a child and young adult with African-Americans; consequently, she had little patience with the prejudice she encountered as she aged and moved away from home. Her character is especially vivid, full of spunk and verve. In a way, she outshines Ella, who could use a bit more personality. Overall, though, the story is a remarkable one about friendship, racism and overcoming the odds.

A stunning story about everyday people combating a brutal history.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491730447

Page Count: 256

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2014

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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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