henriettaJust in time for Banned Books Week, a challenge has been filed in the Knox County (Tenn.) School District against the New York Times bestseller “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.

Published in 2010, the book is medical biography that explores issues of medical ethics, race, poverty, and health care inequality. In 1951, 31-year-old Henrietta Lacks underwent treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins University. While she would die from the disease, her tissue samples – taken without her knowledge or consent – would be used to create HeLa, an “immortal” cell line. HeLa was sold around the world, and was critical to many medical developments from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. Despite this, Lacks’ family never learned of use of HeLa until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists began using her husband and children in research without informed consent.

The book intertwines Lacks’ life with larger issues of human medical experimentation, in particular on African-American patients, and the heartbreaking loss of a young mother of five. The book also addresses issues of violence and infidelity, the description of which a parent of a 15-year-old student assigned to read the book over summer break objected to. Also at issue was the description of Lacks’ intimate discovery of a lump on her cervix. Claiming that the book was inappropriate for teens, the parent stated, “I consider the book pornographic,” she said, adding that it was the wording used that was the most objectionable. “It could be told in a different way,” she said. “There’s so many ways to say things without being that graphic in nature, and that’s the problem I have with this book.” The author, Rebecca Skloot, who worked for 10 years on the book alongside Henrietta’s daughter, stated on her Facebook page:

“… A parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography … I hope the students of Knoxville will be able to continue to learn about Henrietta and the important lessons her story can teach them. Because my book is many things: It’s a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography.”

The student, who had  been assigned the book as part of his school’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program was given a different books to read. However, the parent is still pushing to have the book removed from the curriculum district-wide. Other parents have taken issue with the attempt to remove the book, saying that banning the book would deprive their children of the opportunity to learn about important science and social issues. Doug Harris, Knox County Schools Board of Education chair stated, “Always, good people can disagree,” Harris said, “and I think on this book that’s probably the case.”

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Flood, Alison. “Henrietta Lacks Biographer Rebecca Skloot Responds to US Parent over ‘porn’ Allegation.” The Guardian. 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

Habegger, Becca. “Author Weighs in on Knoxville Mom’s Push to Ban Book from Schools.” WBIR.com. 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

 

asap scienceGrowing up, I was always curious about anything and everything and I still am. As a result, my poor parents, and really any adult who happened to be near me, were often subjected to my numerous questions: Why is the sky blue? Is cracking my fingers really bad for me or do you just find it annoying? Are my eyeballs really going to pop out of my head if I sneeze with my eyelids open? And many many more questions…

Now that I’m an adult, I find myself on the receiving end of those questions every day as well as having questions of my own. How do I answer these questions? Well, I look them up either online or in books. One of my favorite places to look for answers when I don’t have books nearby is a YouTube Channel called AsapSCIENCE. (They also have another channel called AsapTHOUGHT where they add a social conscience twist to science.) On the AsapScience channel, Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown have made hundreds of YouTube videos about a wide variety of science subjects.

As I was walking the new shelves, I discovered that Moffit and Brown had come out with a book called AsapSCIENCE: Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors & Unexplained Phenomena that goes into more detail than their YouTube channel does on certain popular questions, rumors, and unexplained things that are populating our everyday lives. Filled with illustrations as well as easy to understand definitions of difficult terms, Moffit and Brown tackle the important questions: What are eye boogers? How can I cure my hangover? Is binge watching tv really bad for me? Crack open this book to answer those burning questions about the 5 second rule, what would happen if you stopped sleeping, and even if the zombie apocalypse could really happen. They even have the answers to my blue sky, cracking fingers, and sneezing questions!

Have more questions that this book doesn’t answer? Come visit the library and our reference librarians can help you find the answers.

signature of all thingsA glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge,

Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, The Signature of All Things follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker, a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction – into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.

Alma is a clear-minded scientist, Ambrose a utopian artist, but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe, from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who, born in the Age of Enlightenment but living well into the Industrial Revolution, bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas.

Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers. (description from publisher)

The Signature of All Things  is also available for check out as a free ebook through the RiverShare Digital Library.

flightbehavior

Set in rural Appalachia, Flight Behavior introduces readers to fiery haired Dellaboria Turnbow, a 28-year-old mother of two and wife of sweet, but dull Cub. After getting pregnant at 17, she traded college for rural poverty — helping her in-laws on their sheep farm.  We meet Dellaboria as she makes her way toward an adulterous rendezvous, which she skips after seeing what “looked like the inside of joy” that she interprets as a sign from God.  Her vision turns out to be a sea of Monarch butterflies that arrive in rural Tennessee after changing weather patterns disturb their flight behavior.  The butterflies bring in a cast of characters — from environmental activists to scientists to tourists to journalists — that push Dellaboria to challenge her expectations of herself and those around her.

This book reads as deeply personal, with Kingsolver’s fondness for these characters only matched by the urgency in her description of possible near-future effects of climate change.  Kingsolver lives in rural Appalachia (and has a background in ecology and biology), and you can tell that she looks on her home with a mix of affection and frustration.  She writes Dellaboria and her family and friends with enough respect to make them complicated, thoughtful, intelligent, and flawed.  Readers that enjoyed Kingsolver’s other forays into family and politics in  The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will enjoy this beautifully written novel.