The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 2, Chapter 19 : "The Most Critical Time on This Earth Is Now" (1966–1973) | Summary



Deborah Lacks becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Cheetah. She tries to ignore his violent behavior toward her. Deborah wants to quit school again, but Bobbette steps in and tells her she will be going to a school for pregnant girls and will graduate from high school no matter what. Lawrence is making decent money, and Sonny is mostly staying out of trouble, but Joe begins to fight with other men. He is kicked out of the army for fighting, and then, at home, gets angry with a young neighborhood heroin addict named Ivy, who threatens to kill him and then beats Joe up over an argument with Joe's friend June. Joe goes after Ivy the next day and kills him, fleeing to Clover when the police try to find him. However, Clover becomes the scene of more fights, and finally, Sonny has to come get Joe, who decides to turn himself in. He pleads guilty to second degree murder and is sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. He converts to Islam in prison and changes his name to Zakariyya.

Deborah marries Cheetah when she turns 18, but he begins using drugs and beating her up after their second child is born. Deborah fights back and, one night, pushes him down the stairs and puts him out in the cold. She brings him in when morning comes but decides she has to kill him. Bobbette convinces her going to jail for murder like Zakariyya did is not the best thing for the children. She helps Deborah move out while Cheetah is at work, hiding her in her father's house until she gets her own apartment.


Ethel's abuse turns Joe into an angry young man who can't live anywhere without getting into fights. He is mad at his father for allowing the abuse to happen. However, his effort to turn himself in speaks to his character, and his ability to channel his energy into a religious conversion and a change in outlook is remarkable; this will lead him to even more personal development later in his life, when, with Skloot's help, he and Deborah learn more about their mother and her contribution to science.

Deborah's difficult teen years and early adulthood result as well from the abuse she suffered, and only Bobbette's strong hand as a mother figure keeps her from ruining her life completely. Bobbette knows Deborah's only chance to get out of poverty is finish school, and forcing her to do so gives her the ability to believe in herself enough to stand up for herself. Deborah has the strength to finally fight off abuse from Cheetah, and when she becomes a single mother, she takes on two jobs to support her family. This time, Day serves as a haven until Deborah can be out on her own again.

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