There are still a few weeks of summer left, so there is plenty of time left to grab a good book and head to the beach or pool to get your read on. If you, like me, enjoy reading about fertility or genetics in particular, I’ve got you covered! Most of the books I have chosen for this list (and there are many more not on the list) have some personal connection for me. While I know that most of these books have been around for a few years, I still think they are timeless and valuable reads!
1.) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book has been on the New York Times Bestseller list and is now an HBO movie. Henrietta Lacks isa financially challenged African American woman whose cells were taken, without her knowledge, and used in research that resulted in some of the most important advances in medicine. HeLa cells (named for the source – Henrietta Lacks), which I personally used when I worked in a research laboratory, have been used and sold by the billions! This engaging book illustrates many important topics, such as ethics, race, and medicine but should keep the reader interested with its story of family.
2.) The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It by Ricki Lewis
Gene therapy always seems to be an interesting topic for science fiction novels, but rarely do we hear about how this is happening in the real world. The Forever Fix details the story of Corey Haas, an 8-year-old boy with a hereditary form of vision loss. The author not only describes the procedure which saved Corey’s sight but details the science behind gene therapy and tells some other real stories of how gene therapy is being used today to help patients. This ground-breaking work took place at both The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia(where I used to work) and the University of Pennsylvania, ironically the site of an epic fail related to gene therapy many years ago when a teenager died after one of the first attempts at this type of treatment. The Forever Fix shows us that gene therapy, while still a work in progress, has amazing potential!
3.) Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline
For those looking for more fiction and less science, this one is for you! Most Wanted is the story about a couple, Christine and Marcus, who have just completed a successful IVF cycle using donor sperm, but haven’t disclosed to anyone that the sperm is not Marcus’s (cue dramatic music!). One day, a pregnant Christine glances at a new story about a serial murderer and believes that the accused is their selected sperm donor! Issues such as possibility of a “serial killer gene”, anonymous donors, the right to information, and the stress of IVF all appear in this fiction novel. There is even a shout-out to genetic counselors!
4.) Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
This book tells the story of the fertility journey from three perspectives: the anonymous egg donor, the surrogate, and the intended mother. Julia, a college student at Princeton, decides to become an egg donor so she can use the money to pay for rehab for her father. As a busy mother of two boys, Annie wants to find a way to financially secure their future. India marries a wealthy older man and wants to start a family but struggles to get pregnant. Everything comes crashing down when India’s step daughter becomes suspicious that India is not who she claims to be. While this book doesn’t really focus on the details of the IVF process, I really enjoyed how the lives of these three women intertwined on their paths to parenthood.
5.) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex features the story of Calliope Stephanides, a young girl who discovers that she is not like other girls. Today, she would be described as having a disorder of sexual development (DSD), having been born with both male and female genitalia. Callie’s condition is caused by a recessive genetic mutation and is traced back through her family history to a small village in Greece. This book tackles the often controversial subject of gender identity and hormones, as well as inbreeding as the cause of genetic disease.
One of my colleagues caught wind of this list I was putting together and chimed in to bring you a bonus recommendation:
6.) What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
From the author of Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot tells the hilarious tale of a woman who falls and hits her head in spin class, erasing her memory of the last ten years of her life. Nearly forty, with three kids, and separated from her husband, Alice wakes up from her fall thinking she is happily married and pregnant with her first child. Though an unrelatable premise (I hope you can’t relate to that!), the book gave a surprisingly authentic view into the evolution of familial, companionate, and romantic relationships over time. As someone in the fertility industry, when I realized part way through that the parallel story of Alice’s sister’s journey through IVF was also going to be told, I knew this book would become an easy favorite of mine, and it surely did.
While this is by no means an all-inclusive list of books about genetics or infertility (the list could go on and on), these are some of my favorite reads. Some of these books will help you feel less alone, others will simply entertain you and others, well, others may make think your fertility journey seems tame compared to what some of these protagonists have gone through!