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Take My Hand

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Inspired by true events that rocked the nation, a profoundly moving novel about a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama who blows the whistle on a terrible wrong done to her patients, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wench.

Montgomery, Alabama 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a worn down one-room cabin, she’s shocked to learn that her new patients are children—just 11 and 13 years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica and their family into her heart. Until one day, she arrives at the door to learn the unthinkable has happened and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten.That must not be forgotten.

Because history repeats what we don’t remember.

359 pages, Hardcover

First published April 12, 2022

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About the author

Dolen Perkins-Valdez

6 books1,879 followers
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the New York Times bestselling author of Wench (2010), Balm (2015), and most recently Take My Hand (2022). Take My Hand was awarded the 2023 NAACP Image Award for Literary Work-Fiction and the BCALA Fiction Award. It was named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 in Newsweek, San Francisco Chronicle, Essence, NBC News, and elsewhere, and it was an IndieNext and LibraryReads pick for April 2022. The Washington Post called it "a jewel of a book."

Dolen has established herself as a pre-eminent chronicler of American historical life. In 2017, HarperCollins released her first novel Wench as one of eight "Olive Titles," limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston. In 2013, Dolen wrote the introduction to a special edition of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, published by Simon & Schuster, which became a New York Times bestseller. Recently, Dolen has written the Introduction for a 75th anniversary edition of George Orwell's 1984.

Dolen is the current Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
July 12, 2023
I had a hand in breaking all of this. I had to have a hand in fixing it.
When does helping become controlling? When does loving become smothering? When does zeal become interference? How does one do what one knows is best without crossing the line? Civil Townsend, a 23-year-old nurse in the Montgomery Alabama of 1973 has to figure all that out. Working for a federally funded family planning clinic, Civil is one of several nurses responsible for administering Depo-Provera shots to young women patients. The Williams family is her first case. They live in a cabin that is little more than a shack on a farmer’s property, Mace, the father, Mrs Williams, his mother, and two girls, Erica and India. Civil does her job, but after having administered the shots learns that neither eleven-year-old India nor thirteen-year-old Erika has had her first period. In fact, neither of the girls has even kissed a boy yet. So why are they receiving birth-control shots? She learns as well that there are questions about the safety of the shots, which had been found to cause cancer in test animals. She starts looking into what might be done about this.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez - image from American University

Civil has the hard-charging enthusiasm of a rookie, eager to do all in her power to help those in need. Her background is nothing like that of her patients. Her father is a doctor, and her mother an artist. They raised her to do good, even named her for their aspirations of achieving civil rights for black people.
Civil learns how hard it is to go up against authority
She is complicated. She does not always do the right thing. She stumbles in her zeal.
- from the Politics and Prose interview
Civil does everything she can to help the family, gets them some public services, a decent place to live, schooling. And she has an impact, but, on a day when Civil is not working, the head nurse at the clinic tricks the family into signing papers agreeing to the girls’ sterilization. Civil’s alarm turns to rage, and then to fighting for change, so this outrage can never happen again to other unsuspecting girls and young women.

It is 1973, only a year since the infamous, forty-years-long Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was finally shut down. In that one, hundreds of black men were supposedly being treated for syphilis, but in fact no one was being treated. Of the four hundred who were diagnosed with the disease, one hundred died of syphilis directly or complications from the disease. Dozens of wives were infected, and children were born already afflicted. All this, to see how syphilis ran its course in the untreated.

Civil’s activity gets a lawsuit started locally. But soon a young civil rights lawyer, Lou Feldman, is brought in. He transforms it into a national cause célèbre, as the case shifts from looking at the individual harm done to the Williams family to the national disgrace of the forced sterilization of tens thousands.
Our research reveals that over the past few years, nearly one hundred fifty thousand low-income women from all over the nation have been sterilized under federally funded programs.
He wants the laws changed, to end this practice. It is a huge concern for the Black community, but the novel makes clear that there were other groups who were victimized by this heinous practice.

The story take place in two, very unequal timelines. The frame is Civil at sixty-seven, a doctor in 2016, returning to Montgomery after a long absence to see the Williams girls. India is dying. This offers us an ongoing where-are-they-now report. The bulk of the novel takes place in 1973 and immediately after.

Civil struggles with her guilt over having played a part in this horror. It is clear that the notions that had supported legislators allowing such things were not entirely unfamiliar. Civil talks with Lou about the history of eugenics.
“So the idea was what . . . to stop us from having children because we were inferior?” I whispered.
“Well, the ideas were often aimed at specific populations that included Black people, yes. But also the poor, the mentally retarded, the disabled, the insane…” Mrs. Seager probably put the girls in three of these misguided categories: poor, Black, and mentally unfit. Had I done the same? I had initially deemed the girls unfit to be mothers, too. Because they were poor and Black. Because they were young. Because they were illiterate. My head spun with shame.
“Did they target poor white folks, too?” Ty asked.
Lou nodded. “Back in 1927, the US Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilization of people deemed unfit was constitutional. People in asylums all over this country were sterilized.”
Perkins-Valdez offers a most welcome maturity of perspective. Lou, a young, white lawyer, is viewed with suspicion to begin, but earns the community’s trust with his dedication, brilliance, grueling work habits, and effectiveness. He is lauded as a hero, while Mrs Seager, the head nurse, is shown as a flawed person who, though she was doing something terrible, thought she was doing the right thing. Characters take or avoid difficult decisions for understandable reasons. Even a black Tuskegee librarian whom Civil admires has a hard time understanding how she did not see what was going on right under her nose. There is very little good vs evil going on here in the character portrayals, only in the broader horror of a dark-hearted, racist and classist policy.

One of the many joys of the book is the portrayal of a time and place. There are details that add to the touch and feel.
The first thing that hit me was the odor. Urine. Body funk. Dog. All mixed with the stench of something salty stewing in a pot. A one-room house encased in rotted boards. A single window with a piece of sheet hanging over it. It was dark except for the sun streaming through the screen door and peeking through the holes in the walls. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that there were clothes piled on the bed, as if somebody had stopped by and dumped them. Pots, pans, and shoes lay strewn about on the dirt floor. Flies buzzed and circled the air. Four people lived in one room, and there wasn’t enough space. A lot of people in Montgomery didn’t have running water, but this went beyond that. I had to fight back vomit.
Some are more cultural, like the perceptions middle class black people in Montgomery had of poor black people, and the less fraught parallel football culture in which Alabama vs Auburn, followed by white people, is replaced for the black population with Alabama A&M vs Alabama State. News to me. We also get a taste of the segregation of the time, how bathroom accessibility while on the road could be problematic for those of the wrong skin color, how a beach that used to be open to all, and featured black-owned businesses, now required one to pay a park ranger and display a piece of paper on your car, the businesses now long gone.

The case on which Perkins-Valdez based her novel was a real one, Relf vs Weinberger, filed in July, 1973 in Washington D.C. by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Joseph Levin, one of the Center’s founders, was the young lawyer who prosecuted the case.
Mary Alice was 14 and Minnie was 12 when they became victims of the abusive practice of sterilizing poor, black women in the South. Their mother, who had very little education and was illiterate, signed an "X" on a piece of paper, expecting her daughters, who were both mentally disabled, would be given birth control shots. Instead, the young women were surgically sterilized and robbed of their right to ever bear children of their own. - from the SPLC
The story ultimately is about the horror of forced sterilization on poor black people and other classes deemed unfit to breed. You will learn a lot about a crime against humanity that was perpetrated by our own government, and the story of how this injustice was fought. But if the story does not engage, you may not get the benefit of the new knowledge it delivers. Thankfully, there need be no concern on that score. While we may echo the commentary of others to Civil that she did not bear any responsibility for what was done, that her guilt was helping no one, here is a very full-bodied portrait, of a flawed character. One who makes mistakes. A young person who has not yet learned when to push forward, when to take a step back. We see her learning this and can applaud when she takes steps in the proper direction. We also get to see the difficult family dynamic she must negotiate with her own parents, the burden of expectation that has been fitted to her broad shoulders, and the challenge of loving the Williams family, but not too much. And we have a front row seat to her relationships, her struggles, with friends and colleagues.

Take My Hand is a wonderful addition to the Perkins-Valdez oeuvre, begun with her outstanding 2009 novel, Wench, and followed by Balm in 2015. She has a fourth in the works, due to her publisher in October 2022, set in early 1900s North Carolina. So maybe a 2023 release?

A helping hand is often that, kindly meant, but maybe, sometimes, before you put your hand in another’s, you might want to know where it has been, and where it might be taking you. If the hand is attached to Dolen Perklins-Valdez, grasp it and hold on. It will take you somewhere wonderful.
I had never known that good intentions could be just as destructive as bad ones.

Review posted – April 22, 2022

Publication dates
----------Hardcover – April 12, 2022
----------Trade paperback - April 4, 2023

I received an ARE of Take my Hand from Berkley in return for a fair review. Thanks to Elisha K., and thanks to NetGalley for facilitating.

This review has been cross-posted on my site, Coot’s Reviews. Stop by and say Hi!

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, FB, Instagram, and Twitter pages

Profile – from Simon & Schuster (mostly) and her site
Dolen Perkins-Valdez, PhD, is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was also awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Dr. Perkins-Valdez taught in the Stonecoast (Maine) MFA program and lives in Washington, DC, with her family. She is currently Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and is Associate Professor in the Literature Department at American University.
-----Publishers Weekly - Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 'Take My Hand' Reaches for Hard Truths by Jen Doll
there was something about the Relf sisters she kept coming back to. “The thing that struck me about it was that, even though they’re only really mentioned in passing whenever we talk about this, it was a big deal at the time,” she says. The sisters’ ordeal was heavily covered in the press, and they appeared before a Senate subcommittee led by Sen. Ted Kennedy. “There were so many parts of it, to me, that felt absolutely remarkable. I think some people had heard a little bit about it, but they didn’t know enough. I wanted people to know enough.”
-----Politics and Prose bookstore - Dolen Perkins-Valdez — Take My Hand - in conversation with Victoria Christopher Murray
The sound level is uneven, which often makes it difficult to hear. But if you have a sound system the Q/A kicks in

My review of earlier work by the author
-----2010 - Wench

----- Booker T. and the M.G.s - Behave Yourself - chapter 14
-----Mahalia Jackson - Precious Lord Take My Hand - the epigraph notes MLK requesting this be played on his final day
-----Stevie Wonder - You Are the Sunshine of My Life - chapter 20

Items of Interest
-----Eunice Rivers - re the Tuskegee syphilis experiment
-----Mayo Clinic - Depo-Provera
Depo-Provera is a well-known brand name for medroxyprogesterone acetate, a contraceptive injection that contains the hormone progestin. Depo-Provera is given as an injection every three months. Depo-Provera typically suppresses ovulation, keeping your ovaries from releasing an egg. It also thickens cervical mucus to keep sperm from reaching the egg.
----- Mississippi Appendectomy
-----Southern Poverty Law Center - RELF V. WEINBERGER - the real-world case on which the novel is based
-----Wiki on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
-----AP - July 12, 2023 - Canada’s Indigenous women forcibly sterilized decades after other rich countries stopped by Maria Cheng
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
May 18, 2022
The immoral and shameful overreach of the U.S. government on the reproductive rights of mostly black and poor women and young girls through forced sterilization is the central focus of this novel told in dual time lines ,1973 and 2016. While these events are mainly told through the experiences of two young black girls aged 11 and 14 and the nurse who tries to save them, there were many other women in the country subjected to these immoral practices at that time. Even in more recent years, “reproductive injustice “ took place in California prisons between 2006 and 2010.

This is not just a story that enlightened me, stunned me, educated me, but one that moved me, bringing me to tears thinking about these young girls and women. Taking real events as the inspiration and giving a portrait of the time and place and the emotional and psychological impact on people’s lives is for me a hallmark of good historical fiction. The author in her note indicates what of this novel is based on real events and real people and that made it all the more meaningful. Sad and scary and infuriating how relevant this overreach is even today.

I received a copy of this book from Berkley through NetGalley and Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Kezia Duah.
391 reviews345 followers
May 25, 2022
“There’s no greater right for a woman than having a choice .”

We follow the life of Civil Townsend, a nurse, who is assigned to two girls called India and Erica. Civil grew up a bit more privileged than most black families in Alabama, but still sees the many disparities in the healthcare system for black families and is hoping to do as much as she can for these girls and their family. She soon becomes more than their nurse, as she takes care of their grooming, education, and even their living conditions. Something really sad and really hard to take in happens to them around halfway through the book, and it stirs up hard conversations about the state of healthcare among certain communities.

Amazing, heartbreaking, and inspirational story!! This one had me crying those really silent, calm tears instead of the intense sobbing some books put me through. This is loosely based on a true story about the lives of two black girls, Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Rolf. Don’t google them yet if you don’t want spoilers. This book exposes many things that you might not necessarily hear about if you’re not actively trying to discover what healthcare was and is like for certain communities. The girls and the family really illustrate what many poor and minority communities lack, including basic things they should know about their health and illiteracy. The distrust these communities have with the system is also clearly disclosed. Civil Townsend is an exceptional character. She truly fell in love with this family, and what happened to them literally affects her for her entire life. We see this because the book travels to the future in which who she is now is clearly a reflection of the past. I also like that we learn a lot about her, her past struggles, and the people she is closest to enough for us to connect to her individually as much as we are connecting to the story. We also engage with the law quite a bit more than halfway through the story.

“Because history repeats what we don’t remember.”
The story is definitely one that captures your heart and keeps you going. This rightly made me angry and sad at certain points, but I definitely felt an overwhelming sense of peace by the end. Some people in this story took very courageous steps that didn’t pay off exactly as we wanted, but it was definitely something. I just want to be this brave to call out bullshit anyway I can. This is one of those books you can feel is going to be 5 stars early on in the book. At this point, the only way I want to learn about history is through books like these. Nurses truly are such an integral part of medicine!!!

Profile Image for Celeste Ng.
Author 16 books88.2k followers
October 4, 2021
In her newest novel, Dolen Perkins-Valdez probes the many ways institutional racism and classism inflicts lasting scars, especially on young Black women--and the grace, courage, and love necessary to begin to heal those wounds. Deeply empathetic yet unflinching in its gaze, TAKE MY HAND is an unforgettable exploration of responsibility and redemption, the dangers of good intentions, and the folly of believing anyone can decide what's best for another's life.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,482 followers
May 25, 2022
Alabama 1973.
History tells us the south was backwards in more ways than one. This story sadly speaks of some of the shameful truths.

Civil Townsend has graduated. A black nurse who wants to make a difference in the community.
Her first job is one at a family planning clinic. A place that provides birth control to girls and women. She gets attached to two of the girls, discovers they are dosing them with a drug not even FDA approved. Then worse things are revealed.

What’s appalling is how these females were treated inhumanely. Innocence violated. Those in positions making life decisions for those in “their” care. Low income, of African descent, illiterate.

The story is beautifully written. Told in parallel from then to now. Civil’s own personal history patterns and growth. Guilt and redemption. Trying to correct a wrong. Recognizing that family isn’t defined by blood.

The history in the US again is on shaky political grounds. Women’s rights on abortion about to be made illegal. What’s next? If the Supreme Court overturns the Roe vs Wade ruling, the country takes a step backward. I’m not pro abortion but I am pro choice*

Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,182 reviews30.5k followers
May 3, 2022
5 stars!

“In a world inundated by information about these tragedies and more, I still passionately believe in the power the novel (and its readers!) to raise the alarm, influence hearts, and impact lives.” ~ Dr. Dolen Perkins-Valdez

^I can’t say it any better, so I had to quote it. Loosely inspired by actual events, Take My Hand is the powerful story of two young Black sisters who were victims of reproductive injustice, without the informed consent of their caregivers or the girls. It’s also the story of their nurse who was working at the family planning clinic at the time.

It is not ok that this ever happened to women, teenagers, young girls, women with disabilities, women who were economically disadvantaged, women in prison, women in institutional living, and to find out that it continues to happen? That leads me right back to the quote above.

I devoured this book in two days. The writing is smooth and precise; the story compelling and never loses pace. You can’t help but love India and Erica, who at first live in extreme poverty after their mother has passed away, their father and grandmother doing the best they can at the time, still grieving. Their nurse, Civil, becomes close to the family, and eventually becomes an advocate for them, finding them more secure, livable housing, a job for the father, schools for the girls, and eventually, on the path to justice when the unthinkable happens to these girls and this family.

A thought-provoking, important, sensitively told novel everyone should read.

I received a gifted copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Liz.
2,143 reviews2,759 followers
February 18, 2022
Most folks have heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. But not as well known is the US’s forced sterilization of poor young black girls. And I’m not talking about the early 20th century, but the 1960s and 70s.
This book is based on a true story, as told from the perspective of a black doctor. Civil Townsend was a nurse in the 1970s, working for a birth control clinic in Montgomery, Alabama. She firmly believes in helping women control the when and ifs of becoming pregnant. But those running the clinic have other ideas.
She later becomes a doctor and the story is told from a dual timeline approach. The second time is 2016, as Civil attempts to explain to her daughter what happened.
Perkins-Valdez does a great job wrapping the facts of the time into an interesting story. She meets my goal of historical fiction being a source of education. It’s an incredibly sad story. It deals not only with government overreach, but with the slippery slope that can occur when someone believes they know what’s best for someone else and takes matters into their own hand.
This would make a great book club selection.
My thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Kay ☼.
2,034 reviews765 followers
June 10, 2022
An important story and a shameful past.

Take My Hand is an unforgettable story inspired by true events of the Relf sisters.

The novel is told in two timelines by Civil Townsend in 1963 and 2016. Civil is a new nurse and works at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. After a nurse quit, Civil was assigned to the Williams sisters aged thirteen and eleven. She was to continue administering Depo-Provera, a contraception shot to the girls both so young and have never been with a boy. Civil believe it was not the right thing to do and decided not to give them any shots. Her action or inaction led to an inhumane irreversible path for the girls.

This book was very moving and difficult to read. I did enjoy the first half immensely. Perkins-Valdez did a wonderful job portraying the characters and setting. Unfortunately, I found the second half to drag on too much that I skimmed a lot of it. The audiobook was good but not great, I don't feel that the narrator express enough emotions along with the story. -3.5⭐
June 21, 2022
Take My Hand is a gem of a read! It reminds us just how important it is for these stories to be told, for them to be heard, to be acknowledged and remembered and to care; that feels crucial right now. This is why I read the books I do!!

“In order to heal, we must remember, once we remember we must acknowledge, and once we acknowledge we can take more significant action.” ~ Dolen Perkins-Valdez

What are some of the themes explore? Did the stories have me think deeply, challenge my thoughts, and see something different? Or learn anything new?

YES!!! It is a moving, meaningful, less-known story that explores reproductive rights and justice for black people. The story is inspired by real-life 12 and 14 years old sisters Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf. A federally funded family planning clinic involuntarily sterilized them in Montgomery, Alabama 1973. While this case has been well publicized, it is not well known or been written about.

Other themes of responsibility, redemption and unintentionally wounds are explored through Civil. Civil is a young privileged black woman out of nursing school and working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. She is assigned to give birth control shots to two black Alabama sisters, 13-year-old Erica and 11-year-old India. She starts to question why the birth control shots are given to the girls and discovers they are potentially harmful.

Sense of place and time

Dolen Perkins-Valdez captures an affecting sense of place and time with the Roe v. Wade decision a few months earlier, women had the right to abortion, and the U.S. government’s Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the black males. She brings a part of the past to light. With Roe v Wade set to be overturned and reproductive rights in parts of the U.S. are being threatened and oppressed, it’s timely and relevant.

I am Canadian, and abortions are regulated similar to other healthcare procedures across Canadian provinces. Through the Canada Health Act, Canadians have a right to access sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.

The characters:Are the characters easy to connect and relate to? Was I able to step into their shoes?

While Perkins-Valdez uses the savior trope, she writes with compassion and creates realistic characters that are easy to relate to and connect with. She creates an extraordinary, affecting character with Civil, who becomes consumed with helping the Williamses family. She becomes aware that she has unintentionally wounded the family and battles her demons for her part in the girls’ involutnating sterilization. It’s easy to step into the characters’ shoes and feel with them.

“Sometimes love can kill you, just like hate. You love too hard, and you can lose yourself in other folks’ sorrow. You hate too hard, and you know the rest of that story.” ~ Civil

“had never known that good intentions could be just as destructive as bad ones.” ~ Civil

What were some of the emotions I experienced while reading this one?

I had an array of emotions; the best thing about that was I felt them along with Civil. I felt confused and disbelief about what was happening to Erica and India and then angry that it did happen. I had all kinds of questions I needed answers to. I was rooting for Civil to find some peace with her part of what happened. I felt for the Williams family and felt their pain, and rooted for their fight. I felt sad to see how poor, uneducated black families are in the system, a system that should be there to protect them, not cause harm. I was inspired by Civil’s kindness, her willingness to help the Williams, and her decision to stand up and give a voice to the family.

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

I highly recommend reading it!!

I received a copy from the publisher.
Profile Image for Sharon Orlopp.
Author 1 book528 followers
May 6, 2023
Incredible book! I couldn't put Take My Hand down. It is historical fiction based on true events in Alabama in 1973 regarding two young, poor Black sisters.

The story has two timelines: 1973 and 2016. The later timeline involves the protagonist revisiting key people and sites from forty years ago.

Phenomenal character development and dialogue intersected with issues of race, poverty, healthcare, education, government programs, literacy, and standing up for injustice.

Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books59.7k followers
May 1, 2023
This is the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club May 2023 selection. Dolen Perkins-Valdez will join us for a discussion on May 23!

A timely and gripping work of historical fiction loosely inspired by the real-life groundbreaking court case of Relf v Weinberger. In 2016 Memphis, distinguished Black doctor Civil Townsend prepares to retire. First she must journey to her hometown of Montgomery to make peace with the past and tell the truth of it to her own daughter. In alternating timelines, Civil reveals all that unfolded in 1973, when she was a young and idealistic nurse, stepping into her first job at a reproductive clinic serving Black women in her community. She cared deeply for the girls under her care, but grew alarmed at what she was called upon to do: administer experimental and perhaps unnecessary treatments to young patients without their understanding or consent. When the unthinkable happens to one patient and she is sterilized without consent, Civil becomes involved in a landmark lawsuit. A moving story and a testament to fiction’s power to influence hearts and impact lives.
Profile Image for Ceecee.
2,080 reviews1,662 followers
March 1, 2022
4.5 rounded up.

This powerful novel is based on a true story with the central character being Civil Townsend and is told in two timelines. The first is 1973 when she’s a nurse and newly employed by the Montgomery family planning clinic which takes her to the Williams farm where she is to administer Depo-Provera to Erica aged 13 and India aged 11. These girls live in terrible poverty in a one room cabin, neither have ever kissed a boy never mind anything else and one of them is incredibly young. The second timeline is 2016 and Civil is now a doctor considering retirement and is trying to come to terms with what unfolds in 1973 but some things are just too big to ever leave behind .

This is an emotional and incredibly sad tale which the author tells well. Although I knew some things about the eugenics program (it’s also covered in Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain) but the author fills in a lot of details I don’t know such as Depo-Provera. These girls are almost lab rats as at the time it’s not even FDA approved. Civil tries to do good, to do what she believes is the right thing which she will come to regret bitterly. The novel starts slowly but builds as a horrifying tale emerges evoking a whole range of feelings. There are some courtroom scenes that are utterly riveting, the pathos of the girls situation strikes a heartbreaking unforgettable blow.

This is one book you won’t forget in a hurry and nor should it be so as it’s deeply profound and tragic raising a multitude of questions not least on human rights. It’s compelling, raw, disturbing and very well written as the two timelines flow very well, weaving the past with present.

This book led me to some additional reading especially on the Relf versus Weinberger case of 1973 and on the early use of Depo-Provera and any book that leads you to further research has to be worth reading in my opinion.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Orion for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,322 followers
June 17, 2023
4 stars!

An eye-opening, informative, heartbreaking story exploring the US government forced sterilization policies targeted mainly at poor, Black girls and women in post-segregation Alabama in the 1970’s.

Civil Townsend is a nurse at a family planning clinic in Montgomery, Alabama. She has two young patients who are sisters (11 and 13 years old) who she becomes very attached to. Through her devotion to and advocacy for these young, uneducated sisters living in poverty, she discovers life-altering decisions being made for the girls by the government without properly informing them or their families.

This book is heavy — frustrating, poignant, devastating, emotional, hard-hitting. It is one that will leave an impact on every reader. The story shares a piece of history that is appalling to accept. It’s horrific to think the government controlled reproductive rights so boldly mainly in poor, uneducated communities. Often these sterilizations happened with no time to properly explain and inform the patients ahead of these life changing procedures. Sadly, in some parts of the world, reproductive rights remain a topic the government continues to try to control (but I am not here to get into that conversation).

The first half of the book was gut-wrenching and intense. I was glued to the pages and fully invested in the characters. My heart strings were pulled hard by these unique and endearing characters. The second half lost some of its grip on me which is why I took one star away. The courtroom scenes were not as intense or impactful as the rest of the book, although they were extremely important to the storyline — just not written in as powerful of a way as the beginning. Regardless of this, it is an important, relevant book that made a big impact on me as a whole. I learned a lot.

I can compare this to Diane Chamberlain’s exceptional book, Necessary Lies. Another stunning novel surrounding forced sterilization and eugenics. I read that years ago and still think of it often. Highly recommend that if you want to explore further stories on this topic.

Thank you to my lovely local library for the loan!
April 28, 2022
Do you ever love a book, its story and a message it delivers, but you just cannot connect with the characters?

This happened to me with Take my Hand. Its a very important book - it taught me so much about events in Atlanta I have never heard of before. It its shocking and unbelievable, the length humans can go in their own prejudices and their will to use all the power and force to make their own sets of beliefs the right ones. I will never ever
get accustomed to it. I'm an idealist, I know. But I do believe that everyone is important and everyone has a right to its own choices.

But, off to what I minded. I just didn't get the emotions Id need from a book like this. I needed to cry, to get angry, to be more upset and unsettled. But even with realizing its importance and impact, I remained cold. I wanted more of the emotions from the characters themselves. More fire. More inner motives. It all seemed plastic and superficial and I just couldn't get past that. I am an emotional reader and even though I like my books informative, they still need to stir the emotions. The higher the better.

But thinking about it, maybe it was meant to be detached a little. To make our heads clearer so we can appreciate the message better. Make us more objective. More understanding. Maybe. I sure hope so.
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 38 books11.4k followers
June 7, 2021
Take My Hand is a gem: one of those rare and beautiful novels that walks the balance beam of heartbreak and hope. Dolen Perkins-Valdez demonstrates once again the way she can breathe life into history through fiction that adds deep and profound meaning to the past — and makes its relevance to the present meaningful and clear.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,419 reviews35.2k followers
November 30, 2022
Inspired by True Events, Take My Hand, is a beautifully written book about the devastating practice of forced sterilization. Reproductive rights are a hot topic, and to learn that this was/is occurring in the United States is heartbreaking and staggering.

"...in the 1960s and 1970s, new federal programs like Medicaid also started funding nonconsensual sterilizations. More than 100,000 Black, Latino and Indigenous women were affected." - taken from the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, University of Michigan (https://ihpi.umich.edu)

Montgomery, Alabama 1973

Civil Townsend is a young nurse who wants to make a difference. She works at a family planning clinic funded by the government. She is hoping to champion women's sexual health and hopes to help women make their own choices and have a voice. She and other nurses are giving Depo-Provera shots to their female patients. When she sets out, she has no idea that those she will be treating are young - very young and not all have reached puberty. When she enters a home to give the shots, she is shocked that the young women she is schedule to see are in fact an eleven-year-old and a thirteen-year-old. She does her job but walks away with questions and concerns.

When she learns more, Civil is disturbed and worried. She also can't get this family out of her mind. She does everything she can think of to help them. Then one day, she learns heartbreaking news.

This was such a moving and thought-provoking book. I was heartbroken and shocked while reading this. The injustice and lies told were staggering. This book touches on reproductive rights, sterilization, civil rights, injustice, and history to name a few. I was blown away by Dolen Perkins-Valdez's writing. Her vivid descriptions had feeling if I was right there in the story as a silent observer.

I love books that not only educate and move me but are thought provoking as well. This book had me feeling several emotions while reading it. This was a powerful and hard to put down read.

Highly recommend.

*Buddy Read with Mary Beth with input from Brenda.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com

Profile Image for Carol.
368 reviews353 followers
September 27, 2022
A profoundly stirring novel inspired by true events. The setting is 1973 and reveals a dark chapter in American history when government overreach was responsible for surgically sterilizing thousands of poor, Black and mentally challenged girls and women without their consent. The author brilliantly enfolds the facts of this time into an emotional, thought-provoking, and gripping historical fiction.

I confess that I was unaware of the national court case. I’m grateful to the author for shining a spotlight on this shocking injustice. I was educated, deeply moved, and upset by this unconscionable tragedy.

This is a well-timed read. By overturning Roe v. Wade, women's reproductive rights are once again under full scale attack. Highly recommended! *****4.5 Stars*****
Profile Image for Zoe.
406 reviews931 followers
August 4, 2022
“Whether it was the Birmingham church bombing or Ruby Bridges, there wasn’t any justice for little Black girls, and never had been.”
A fictionalized take on a real U.S. Supreme Court case, Take My Hand is a harrowing and eye-opening account about the shameful legacy of eugenics in the United States.

In 1970s Alabama, Civil Townsend is one of the few Black women nurses employed at a small clinic. She is horrified when she discovers that two young Black children have been forcibly sterilized. She decides that it is her duty to hold those accountable responsible.

Civil is an incredibly likable and well-written protagonist. She’s compassionate and stubborn with a keen sense of justice. Every thought and feeling she has is so visceral and realistic; you feel every single emotion she does.

Take My Hand is incredibly eye opening and educational. Like Ruta Sepetys, Doles Perkins-Valdez manages to shed a light on a relatively unknown part of history that more people should be aware of. While many historical fiction novels can feel outdated because the time period has passed, the disturbing fact that forced sterilization still occurs in the United States today makes this a relevant and informative read. In fact, one report discovered that “148 female prisoners in two California institutions were sterilized between 2006 and 2010” [source].

Take My Hand is a distressing but important read told with incredible empathy. It gracefully tackles important issues such as racism, poverty, and free will.
“It baffled me how hatred and goodness could coexist. The world was an enigma. My country was an enigma.”
Profile Image for Carol Vickers.
268 reviews315 followers
April 11, 2023
BRILLIANT!! What a beautifully written and heartbreaking story about the devastating practice of forced sterilization and reproductive injustices. This is loosely inspired by an actual court case in 1973 Montgomery, Alabama. Take My Hand was a horrifying, tough read and I had a constant flow of tears running down my face. I am appalled by the atrocities that the young girls and women had to endure. It is NOT okay! With that being said, it is a powerful book that is thought provoking and demands justice. The author does an amazing job exposing this dark time in American history. Honestly, I could not put the book down. Easily one of my favorite books this year and deserve ALL the stars!🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews599 followers
April 4, 2023
Audiobook….read by Lauren J. Daggett
….10 hours and 57 minutes

‘Take My Hand’ follows the truth about the Tuskegee Syphilis study.
It was originally called “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”.
It’s now referred to as the USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee.
The study originally involved 600 Black men —399 with Syphilis — 201 who did not have the disease. Participants informed consent was not collected. Researchers told the men they were being treated for ‘bad blood’, a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free food, and burial insurance.
128 people died of syphilis or related complications.
But …
rather than dry facts … the personal storytelling format creates a deeply felt engrossing novel.

It can’t be underestimated about how. . .
… wonderful,
… gripping,
….maddening-brutal injustice reveals,
….gorgeously written,
….exceptionally audio-
addicting. . . .
That this book is!!!

Mentally unfit?
Young? > Black or White
The disabled?
The risk of being any one of the above descriptions….often resulted in life-long suffering from violence against them— from unethical sterilizations.

Women and little girls all over this country were sterilize who never should’ve been.

“Take My Hand” explored the healthcare system: the horrific discrepancies and consequences.

The characters we meet have our full attention- our hearts - and our empathy.

Civil Townsend, protagonist …. intended to make a vital difference. She did.
She took the hand of two young girls …… and never let go.
The young girls we meet are achingly endearing and easy to love,

The history we explore and examine is based on the true sad brutalities.

The overall experience of the audiobook- (kudos to the well-written words),
was intimate—emotional— and would be extremely shocking if one wasn’t already familiar with this history….
Besides the obvious awareness importance….
“Take My Hand” was simply mesmerizing in totality.

I was late to the party with this book, but familiar with the history.
For lack of another word — it was so damn enjoyable….
and I’m glad I didn’t pass it up.

Easy to recommend to others who might have skipped it as I did ….
Once a reader begins this book — there is no question— it will be clear - the right book was chosen.
Profile Image for Tammy.
523 reviews438 followers
December 6, 2021
I deliberately avoided reading much about this novel before beginning and I gasped aloud when the pivotal event occurred. Given that this is a fictionalized account of actual events makes it even more horrifying. This novel is as much about good intentions resulting in unintended consequences as it is about gross injustices inflicted upon the poverty-stricken, black population in the deep south. The voice of the much older doctor, who is a nurse at the time of the event, is warm, authentic, and wise as she recounts her story and her reasons for a trip back to her hometown. Forty-eight years later our healthcare system is still a mess and racist not to neglect mentioning that abortion rights are being seriously threatened.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,988 followers
June 15, 2023
A powerful novel set in 1973, Montgomery, Alabama, about a Black nurse, Civil Townsend, who tries to make a difference in the lives of girls and women before stumbling upon a case of two young sisters that changes her career trajectory forever. I thought Dolen Perkins-Valdez did a great job of incorporating poignant themes about how we’re each responsible for fighting injustice and taking accountability for our actions. Without spoiling the plot, she portrays the past and still ongoing reproductive injustices faced by Black and brown, low-income, disabled, and otherwise marginalized girls and women. I found Civil a well-written protagonist with a consistent voice, and the novel is gripping without resorting to shock value for shock value’s sake. This is the United States history we need to learn more about!
Profile Image for Kristine .
693 reviews167 followers
June 28, 2023
This is a book that really has a powerful message. Civil Townsend is fresh out of nursing school and ready to make a difference at The Montgomery Alabama Family Planning Clinic. She is assigned to visit homes and give young girls shots of Depo Provera. This is a form of longer lasting birth control. She meets with two sisters, India, 11 and Erica, 13. They are black and poor. It is just assumed that this means they will be sexually active. India has not even gotten her period yet, so can’t get pregnant. Civil thinks she is helping, but starts to check into exactly what she is injecting these girls with. Things get much worse after this.

I think the powerful message is if you know something is wrong, speak up. It is so much easier to be quiet or get pulled along with others who try to convince you that everything is being done correctly and for a reason. It is much harder to speak up and yes, there is a price to pay for doing so. Yet, I do not know of any acts of social injustice that get changed without someone refusing to keep quiet and knows it is necessary to bring about change so that is the motivation to say something.

Civil is outraged by the cruelty toward India and Erica and really loves these girls. It is always hard to be the first to speak out and not tolerate horrendous acts, yet for Civil it is not a choice. She can’t drop this. She is not going to let these girls and their family be hurt anymore. I was incredibly moved by the courage Civil shows. This is how we make a difference, this is how we try in our flawed way to bring about change, and it was a tremendous book to read.

It will disturb you. It should disturb you. It will also inspire you. I read to remind myself that it is important to remember my role and to be brave and not allow injustice to continue because I am complacent. I think I should strive to be aware and leave the world a little better then when I stepped into it. Something to think about and this book certainly will make you do that. The author does an outstanding job and I can not recommend this book enough.

I just read that Celeste Ng recommended this as one of her 5 favorite new books. It really is worth reading, such a powerful message
Profile Image for Brandice.
911 reviews
May 24, 2022
Take My Hand is a historical fiction story set in Alabama in 1973. Civil Townsend graduated with her nursing degree and is now employed at a family planning clinic. In one of her initial consults, she’s sent to a dilapidated country cabin, where her patients are the Williams sisters, Erika and India, just 11 and 13 years old. She immediately cares for the girls and is determined to help the family into a safer, healthier environment. After her first visit, she doesn’t feel right about giving the young sisters their birth control shots anymore either. Then, Civil arrives one day to find a major decision has been made, impacting Erika and India and their futures.

The story follows Civil as she works to help the Williams family and others in the African American community. She has to deal with a suspicious, secretive boss as well as decisions from her own personal life. The story shifts to 2016 in brief intervals where Civil revisits her past and those involved in her quest to help.

Perkins-Valdez shares in her author’s note that while this was not a retelling, it was inspired by true events. It’s terrible that things like this actually went on and here we are 50 years later, where this country once again is attempting to strip women of their rights in more places than not.

Take My Hand is a thought provoking story about moral dilemmas and human rights, and a great book for discussion. I was hoping for a bit more of a reveal as the 2016 chapters felt like they were building up to something, but I also appreciated that some outcomes felt realistic in that feelings can stay with us for extended amounts of time and even when we try to help, our decisions may not yield the exact results we sought.
Profile Image for Natalie.
53 reviews1 follower
April 30, 2022
I really struggled with how to rate this. I loved learning about a part of history that I didn’t know existed. It has ignited a curiosity in me that didn’t exist before. However, I have some complaints.

1) Why couldn’t we just stick with the sterilization horror? Why did we have to add the main character having had an abortion? It muddied the waters, and took away from what the author was trying to teach us about (welfare forced sterilizations) by wasting time drawing connections between the two. Instead of delving into the horror of never being able to have children because some government entity tricked you into it (terrible!!) the author delved into how the main character had CHOSEN to have an abortion, and that the girls had never been given that CHOICE. It just felt so wacky to me, and detracted from the reality of two young black girls’ tubes being tied at 11 and 13 years old. Which leads me to my next complaint.

2) I wish I had felt more! A terrible thing was done, but I felt so bleh about it. I wish we had gotten more emotion. Maybe some chapters from India or Erica’s points of view? I don’t know how authors make us fall in love with characters and cry along with them. But I never even came close to crying. Even though I wanted to.
Profile Image for AsToldByKenya.
167 reviews2,148 followers
December 15, 2022
this is storytelling. this is literature. just a thoughtful, well researched and honest book.
Profile Image for Mary.
99 reviews8 followers
May 29, 2022
Such a fascinating subject, but this story is not well written. The characters are flat, the dialogue feels unnatural, the relationships don’t make sense, the romances are left totally unexplored and unexplained. It was just kind of boring. I really wanted to like this one, but it was disappointing.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,548 reviews601 followers
May 20, 2022
Based on actual events, this is a gripping and shocking story about two young black girls and a nurse who tries to help them and their family. Perkins-Valdez keeps the momentum going and is a superb storyteller. I listened to the audio which was well narrated by Lauren J. Daggett.
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