An intriguing but uneven account of a remarkable woman triumphing over adversity.


A debut author chronicles a life spent overcoming family and physical problems, from her childhood in Michigan through her retirement from a notable career at General Motors.

Thomson seemed to know from an early age that she was special. She understood things quicker than her fellow students and she was willing to stand up for herself. These were helpful traits for a girl growing up with a set of fused fingers, a deformed arm, a prosthetic leg, an abusive mother, and an alcoholic father. Her intelligence and determination helped her overcome her social awkwardness and a number of adversities. She left behind her full scholarship to Michigan State University to work on the family freighter. Her adventures included facing a fierce winter storm in the Atlantic and witnessing ocean wonders (“Off the coast of Maryland, I went aft one night and saw phosphorescent algae churned up from the prop off the stern. It was magical—mesmerizing”). Later, she saw the dissolution of her family in Florida. She then bounced around the country, working different jobs before catching on at General Motors and breaking new ground for women in its financial sector. She balanced a booming career, a troublesome marriage, and continuing medical problems. Thomson has a talent for vividly describing a setting—she can remember the furniture in a house, the interior of the family car, and the route she walked to school. But this ability doesn’t extend to the more salient details that would pull a memoir together. The book, which features a few photos, often reads more like a list of events than an exploration of an incredible life. It lacks the particulars that would put readers in the scene and allow them to see what’s happening and feel the weight of it. When recounting her parents’ troubles, she writes: “My parents were gone for a while, replaced by a very stern and unpleasant white-uniformed-with-cap nurse.” They eventually returned, but there is no information about how this happened, the children’s reaction when they first met the nurse, or anything that passed between them.

An intriguing but uneven account of a remarkable woman triumphing over adversity.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5371-3744-5

Page Count: 242

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2017

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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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