Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This historical fiction novel, set mostly in 1973, tells the story of the Williams family and the selfless nurse who would do anything to help them. Civil Townsend, a nurse at a family planning clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, is assigned to support the Williams family, specifically the two daughters, India and Erica. At ages 13 and 11, the sweet girls were involuntarily sterilized without Civil or their guardians being properly informed. Take My Hand is about Civil’s fight to right the wrongs in her community which turns out to be a much bigger issue than she ever anticipated.

This book was heartbreaking and difficult to read at times, but I learned so much and wished that I could reach through the pages to hug the characters. If you read and loved Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain, you will also love this one. It’s a book I won’t forget and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy! Thank you NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for my digital copy!!
Was this review helpful?
Beautifully told, this novel is interesting in it's story and comes to life through the voice of Civil Townsend. I found the subject, while absolutely maddening and horrifying, to be fascinating. There is so much unknown (to me) history about our country. This novel does a wonderful job highlighting unjust and inhumane actions that were taken against poor young (and often black) women in the not so distant past. Civil Townsend is believable as an idealistic, caring and intelligent young woman who wants to make a difference in the world. Through the lens of Civil, the reader sees scenes from the past and how they have affected the present. There is growth in the character and perspective that only comes through maturity and time. I loved this novel and would highly recommend it.
Was this review helpful?
History + Fiction = A Damn Good Novel 

The bestselling author of Wench is back with a new release titled Take My Hand. Bookhearts, drop everything and reserve this book at your local library or bookstore. This one is for my social justice Bookhearts, my historical black fiction lovers, my believers that history repeats itself. Be warned: this story will linger long after the last page is read.

Civil Townsend is fresh out of nursing school with a plan to make a difference in her Black community. She works at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic in Alabama, 1973. Her first week on the job leads her to new patients—a pair of 11- and 13-year old sisters on birth control. Neither have children, let alone sexually active. But they are poor, Black and receiving welfare benefits so the government deems it necessary to have the girls on birth control.

Civil's job was just to give the shot and keep it moving. But this doesn't sit right on her spirit. Then one day she shows up to find the unthinkable has happened and there's no fixing the damage. It shaped Civil's future and forever changed the course of the young girls' lives.

It breaks my heart that Take My Hand was inspired by true events not even 50 years ago. It puts into perspective women's rights and how little things have changed when it comes to our bodies, our choice. Dolen Perkins-Valdez wrote of reproductive injustice and informed readers via fiction of a terrible wrongdoing. She has raised awareness and definitely tapped into the emotional impact of the real-life case of Relf v. Weinberger. So well done! 

Happy Pub Day, Dolen Perkins-Valdez! Take My Hand is now available!

Was this review helpful?
For more reviews and bookish posts please visit

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the story of a young African-American nurse who finds herself administering trial sterilization shots to young, poor, African-American girls. Ms. Perkins-Valdezis a bestselling author, and an Associate professor of Literature at American University.

Civil Townsend graduated from nursing school in 1973, and find herself working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. An intelligent, well-meaning, but naïve woman, Civil thinks he’s going to help women make their own choices.

India and Erica Williams, two very poor 11 and 13-year-old sisters, are Civil’s first clients. As she takes the whole Williams family under her wing, Civil realizes she and the sisters are unwilling participants in a government-funded sterilization trial.

I recognized the author’s name from a few years ago when I read her first novel Wench, a wonderful but hard-hitting book about slavery. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, is another historical fiction story that tackles another shameful chapter in US history – the forced sterilization of young African-American women.

The author is upfront about the story, the program actually happened, but all the characters are fictional. Worst, the intentions behind the program, a tremendous overreach to say the least, were not even well-meaning, it was a trial. Afterward, many of the young ladies developed cancer as a result.

The protagonist, Civil Townsend, is unflinching and brave. She has the advantage over the other nurses of being the daughter of a successful, wealthy lawyer, and hence does not actually need the nursing job and is able to take a moral stand.

We read Civil’s story from two timelines, 1973 and 2016, where she attempts to find the Williams’ sisters and others. This aspect was well done, it was clear, not confusing, and made sense within the narrative.

Ms. Perkins-Valdez has the ability to give a sense of time and place while telling a good story. I also enjoy reading historical fiction because, on some level, I learn a new thing or two. This novel certainly checked that box as well.

Unfortunately, the novel is still relevant to today’s world. While we like to believe these types of experiments are no longer done, California has proven us wrong in 2006 and 2010.
Was this review helpful?
Perkins-Valdez is an American historical fiction author. Her previous two books were "Balm" and "Wench".  This new release is another historical fiction and is loosely inspired by the 1973  real case of the Relf sisters, who in 1973 at 12 and 14 years old were tricked into being sterilized by the government for being poor and black. The author has told the story from the point of view of a nurse who was charged with giving two sisters Depo-Provera shots for birth control and is horrified when the nurse in charge arranges for the surgery.  As with the best historical fiction this is an entertaining story that educates the reader in this instance on horrifying events in the American past. I really enjoyed this.
Was this review helpful?
At sixty-seven years old, Civil Townsend is troubled not only by her body’s aches and pains, but the bruises of memory. Her adopted daughter knows the story of her parentage, Civil tells us, but not her lineage, how she came “out of a long line of history that defies biology.” That intersection of biology, or reproduction, and the chain of struggles and accomplishments that create history forms the heart of Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s third novel, Take My Hand.

Her memory skips back more than forty years to 1973, when Civil was a young nurse working at a family planning clinic in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil came from an elite Black family, her father a doctor and her childhood surrounded by educated people. 

Civil quickly becomes very close to one particular family of patients. Her portfolio includes driving around the county to provide family planning services, and one of her first jobs is to give Depo-Provera shots to two young girls, age 11 and 13. And though Civil assures her father, when he asks about an eleven year old having sex, that she’s only helping them not nosing in their business, the Williams family captivates her. 

Perkins-Valdez brings her trademark sensitivity to this compelling novel, and Civil moves between self-righteous anger at the perpetrators of the injustice against India and Erica to a wise understanding of “how a person could get so caught up in doing good that they forgot the people they served had lives of their own.” It’s a lesson that Civil herself struggles with, so caught up in her missionary zeal is she, and one that dovetails nicely with the book’s complicated conclusion about the importance of self-determination and choice.

The full review will be posted on The Washington Independent Review of Books.
Was this review helpful?
A dual timeline taking place in 1973 and 2016, Take My Hand by author Dolen Perkins-Valdez explores the U.S. government's forceful involvement in involuntary sterilization of mostly poor,disadvantaged,illiterate women of color.
Loosely based on a case in Alabama in 1973 involving children ages 12 and 14 years of age whose illiterate family signed the consent form for this procedure to take place after being lied to about what the paper said that they were signing.
The story is told through the eye's of a nurse who was involved in the lives of the children and their family beyond typical nurse duties. This gave me a sense of hope and gladness.
The story hurt my heart and made me cry at the injustice done to these children just because they were poor and of color and the government though this would be in their best interest.
A woman's reproductive choices are her own to make and no one has a right to make them for her no matter her circumstances or age.
In the author's research she discovered this wasn't the only case like this, that there were many cases across the country of forced sterilization. This sadly is relevant today as women in California prisons and immigrants coming into our country have had this procedure done to them.
Based on facts this book is one that moved me and will stay with me for a long time. I recommend it to you, it will open your eyes and educate you.

Published April 12,2022.
I was given a complimentary copy of this book.
All opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Montgomery, Alabama the home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the bus boycotts, voting rights, marches, and the place where Civil Townsend grew up amongst all this joy and sorrow.  Things have slightly improved for the African American community, in 1973.  Civil is fresh out of nursing school and is ready to make her mark on this world.  Her first job will be at Montgomery Family Planning Clinic where she will be helping women make better discissions about birth control and to help control unwanted pregnancies.  She walked in with her head held high and the world at her fingertips.  She thought she was going to help make the African American community a better place.  One where a family could thrive if they had better choices.  The first day she learned she had a family with an eleven and thirteen-year-old receiving the Depo-Provera shot.  Civil questions why they are being given the shot, they are so young and not sexually active.  As she begins to dig and learns more about the Williams family more and more shocking revelations come to light.

Take My Hand will make you squirm, tears will rush down your face, and you will be in shock over some if not all the government practices that went on with minorities during this time.  You need to feel uncomfortable and become emotional to understand what these practices meant to individuals, their families, and how it affected their entire lives.  I do not want to go into too much detail and give away the entire story.  This needs to be read and this needs to be understood that this happened in the United States, with all minorities, people in poverty, the people without a voice.  

Dolen Perkins-Valdez took a deep dive into researching this book.  It is gorgeously written, and you will fall in love with each and every one of the characters.  Civil, Erica/Erika, India, Mrs. Williams, Mason, Ty, and the list goes on.  They will take you by the hand and lead you into their story.  A story that needs to be told; a story that needs to be heard.  Thank you to Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Berkley Publishing, and NetGalley for sending me this astounding read.
Was this review helpful?
Special Thanks too Berkeley Publishing Group, Berkeley, and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my own opinion.

One of the most anticipated books of 2022 and now I see why.

Special thanks to author Dolen Perkins-Valdez for the beautiful writing, the research done and just the beauty of this book. Small spoiler alert: You may cry. I did but I'm a hot sniveling mess as it is, and people hot is not good here. For me. Not a good look. 

Anyway onto the book. I loved that this book is fiction woven through with non-fiction. What a terrible thing sterilizing girls, in this book, (sisters in this case,  hi Eve 👹) yeah right.) Like she will get to it in 2022 Well I'm gonna recommend this book to everyone. Maybe not people who have actually gone through this torture. Its disgusting, and soul crushing my heart was literally feeling like it cracked in half. 

Civil, Wilkerson, from Alabama, wants to become a nurse and does so, A nice accomplishment with a burning desire to change  the horrors of what she's seen and knows is shocked when the first, house, or shack, and finds two sisters there, aged 9 and 11, who've never kissed a boy, but the government wants them sterilized. Horrified at this, Civil takes to these  girls but returns one day to find  the unthinkable.has happened  and the family crushed.  Going back and forth between time, Civil recounts her story. There is more that I won't give away, but its truly sad what goes on.

I loved this book. Its so beautifully written. I will be thinking about this book for a long time. I just know it will stick with me. Great research Dolen. Highly recommend. Easily 5 stars!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you @berkleypub and @netgalley for my eArc. My favorite book of the year. HANDS DOWN. I will be forever recommending this book. 
𝘛𝘞: 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘮𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘭 𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘮, 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘻𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯
I can’t even write a review that will do this book justice. There are no words. The writing, the characters, the storyline, the historical facts, just EVERYTHING was absolutely powerful and will be forever imbedded in my heart. My emotions were all over the place; sad, ANGRY, happy, heartbroken.
This book highlights the struggle that women have had to face, particular minority women, (and continue to) for reproductive justice. Although ‘Take My Hand’ is a fictionalized take on actual events this book is heartbreakingly beautiful; (Relf v. Weinberger, 1973) sisters aged twelve and fourteen, were sterilized without their consent in Montgomery, AL, by a federally funded agency.
The talented Dolen Perkins-Valdez, did her research and to the utmost degree. Forced sterilization is more common than should be. The eugenic sterilization movement has been adopted by multiple countries for ex: U.S. ICE detention centers and Nazi sterilization campaigns. Sterilization abuse is not over; history tragically repeats itself.
Please consider picking this up. You won’t be disappointed!
Was this review helpful?
Moving and heart-wrenching!

What a beautiful and shocking story, my emotions where all over the place but I just couldn’t stop listening, this is one of those stories that broke my heart but gave me hope; a story that will stay with me for a very long time. All the stars.

Thank you Berkley Publishing Group Penguin Random House Audio and NetGalley for this gifted copy.
Was this review helpful?
A Recommended Read.

 Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a poignant literary novel that is loosely based on real life events.

  In 2016, Dr. Civil Townsend travels back to her hometown in Montgomery, Alabama after learning someone dear to her has been diagnosed with cancer. During her drive, she reflects on the events that changed so many lives during her first job as a nurse in 1973. Although she is from a middle-class Black family, Civil decides to work for a birth control clinic that services poor women in the area. Her first patients are India and Erica Williams, whose living conditions shock Civil. The young girls live with their father Mace and grandmother Patricia in a ramshackle shack out in the country.  Although harboring doubts about giving birth control shots to girls of such young ages, Civil follows her boss’s orders. She is also moved by their plight and she successfully finds them a better place to live and assists Mace in finding employment. After a discussion with her childhood friend, Tyrell “Ty” Ralsey, Civil realizes she might be doing more harm than good by giving those shots. She then makes a decision that sets in motion events that define and haunt her throughout her life.

  Civil does not realize how privileged she is until she meets the Williams family. Although aware poverty exists around her, her father has shielded her from witnessing it firsthand. Civil's questions are not welcomed at the clinic and she quickly leans to keep her thoughts to herself. But after she learns the troubling information about the birth control shots, she and her friend Alicia take matters into their own hands. This sets off a chain of events that eventually exposes and alters common practices in federally funded birth control centers across the United States.

  Take My Hand is an emotionally compelling novel that seamlessly moves back and forth in time. Civil is a compassionate young woman who firmly believes that women should be in charge of their reproductive health. India and Erica are wonderful young teenagers who quickly adapt to the changes in their lives. From the Williams’ filthy shack to government housing to the courtroom, the settings spring vividly to life. The storyline is incredibly moving and fully captures readers’ attention from beginning to end.  With impeccable research, Dolen Perkins-Valdez shines a bright light on a shameful period in American history.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you @berkleybooks for the #gifted eARC of TAKE MY HAND!

There are books that make me seriously question my education growing up and this is one of them. And I think that many of us also grew up in ignorance regarding the atrocities enacted upon poor and Black bodies in recent history. This is what makes books like TAKE MY HAND so incredibly important and valuable.

In TAKE MY HAND, Dolen Perkins-Valdez fictionalized the 1973 real-life case of Minnie Lee and Alice Relf. The Relf sisters were only 12 and 14 years old when they were medically sterilized without their consent or knowledge at a federally-funded Montgomery clinic. The co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center took their case and filed a lawsuit on their behalf, which shined a national spotlight on the 150,000 victims who had been sterilized across the country.

As a woman and a mother, I cannot fathom having my choice to have children taken away from me, let alone without my knowledge. And yet this is a reality that is STILL happening. In 2020 there were reports that women in ICE detention centers were being sterilized. It’s horrific and inhumane.

TAKE MY HAND is beautifully written and immersive. It took me a long time to read because my heart was so heavy but it is well worth the emotional toll.

I encourage each of you to pick up this book and to learn from it. I know it will stay with me for a long time.

TAKE MY HAND is outApril 12, 2022.

Was this review helpful?
ENGROSSING! A hauntingly beautiful heart-wrenching story of hope, injustice, love, loss, redemption, and accountability. A peek inside one of the darkest times in American history.


The moral and ethical questions the author explores in TAKE MY HAND remain salient today. The novel takes place from Civil's retrospective look some 40 years ago from 2016.

Montgomery, AL 1973: Civil Townsend landed her first job at the Montgomery Family Clinic as a nurse. She was so excited about this job, even though her dad would have preferred her as a doctor, like himself. She was fired up, ready to make a difference; however, she had no idea how she would change lives. Her very first case tests her in a way that will haunt her for decades to come.

Her first assignment was in rural Alabama off-site: two young girls that would need birth control. The clinic provided shots. Their mission was to help poor people who could not help themselves. They lived with a grandmother and a father. Their mother had passed. None of the family was educated. People like this are afraid of the government and social services due to food stamps and funding. But can they trust these clinics?

Whenever Civil met this family, little did she know how they would impact her life forever. Civil grew up differently and was unaccustomed to seeing the poor conditions of living in a house with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing or bathrooms.

These girls did not need birth control, they were just children. She had to get this family into better housing, the dad a better job, and she had to stop birth control before it harmed them. Emotionally attached, she must take these girls under her wing. She falls in love with this family.

Little did she know the government that she worked for would go behind her back forcing sterilization without consent. Civil is very sensitive due to the fact you had an abortion in the spring of 1972.

Deeply moving and emotional the author pulls you by the heartstrings from the first page to the last. I LOVED everything about TAKE MY HAND by the talented Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I knew I would love it as it checks all the boxes by the description; however, it is even more and exceeded all my expectations. I read this in one sitting and literally could not put it down. I fell in love with the characters that will linger long after you finish reading. Be sure and have some Kleenex handy.

Inspired by true events (Relf v. Weinberger June 1973 ). Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, sisters aged twelve and fourteen, were sterilized without their consent in Montgomery, AL, by a federally funded agency. Outrange by the terrible violation, their social worker, Jessie Bly, reported it to a local attorney. Eventually, the case went to federal court in Washington, DC. The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs was Joseph Levin of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The case is considered a pivotal moment in the history of reproductive injustice, as it brought to light the thousands of poor women of color across the country who had been sterilized under federally funded programs.

The author brilliantly utilizes the historical records as inspiration to imagine the emotional impact of this dark time in American history and others like it. In the author's note, she adds she hopes the novel will provoke discussions about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black, and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood. Yes, indeed this is a powerful story and will raise alarms, influence hearts, and impact lives. An ideal book club pick for further discussions.

You will fall in love with Erica and India Williams, sisters, just eleven and thirteen, and their family (father and grandmother). I absolutely ADORED the Black brave and courageous nurse, Civil Townsend (a favorite character of 2022) who found herself trying to protect this family from the very place she was employed at the Montgomery Family Clinic. This family changed her life forever and she became a courageous whistleblower.

Meticulously researched and beautifully rendered, based on a true story, you will be Googling after reading to learn more about these girls and the injustices.

Timely, and an essential part of our history. Reminiscent of Diane Chamberlain's NECESSARY LIES  and her other works (favorite). This is a Top 3 Historical Fiction List of 2022 for me. 5 STARS +++ I highly recommend moving this to the top of your list. My first book by the author and cannot wait for more.

I would love to see a follow-up story with Civil and Ty—they deserve a few more happy chapters together at long last.

A special thank you to #Berkley and #NetGalley for an e-book ARC and the stunning hardcover copy to read, review and enjoy.

Blog Review Posted at: 
@JudithDCollins  #JDCMustReadBooks
Was this review helpful?
Stunning, shocking, absolutely fantastic novel. Dolen never disappoints. I was hooked from the beginning, hit the 40% mark and could not put this down! I also love learning something NEW and now I've got to research the story behind this novel. She has gripped my heart from Wench (gave me very vivid dreams), Balm is my fave of her novels, but Take My Hand is trying to fight for that title. I also love, as another reviewer stated, that I don't feel hopeless at the end of this novel. That I don't feel like the author just dumped a lot of trauma on my shoulders and I have to walk around with it. I wish I could be more eloquent in my review, but I'll leave that to the scholars. Loved this novel, Civil, and those girls she came to call 'hers'.
Was this review helpful?
In 2016, Dr. Civil Townsend decides it’s time to tell her daughter Anne about a pivotal event that shaped her life. Told in flashbacks as a mother speaks to her daughter, Civil’s emotional and heartbreaking story takes place in 1973. As a young nurse, Civil takes a job at Montgomery, Alabama Family Planning Clinic. As a young Black woman, Civil is anxious to help the poor girls and women of the community. Her first case sends her to the farmhouse of the Williams family. She discovers that Erica, age 13 and India, age 11 are being given birth control, which is alarming given their ages. And more shocking is her discovery that the shots they have received could be dangerous. The sisters are living in poverty with their father and grandmother, who cannot read or write, have been too trusting of the people sent to supposedly help them. As Civil tries to help the family, she finds herself involved in not only their plight but an even greater effort to reform reproductive rights across the country.

Author Dolen Perkins-Valdez has created an incredibly moving story inspired by real-life sisters and their court case. Take My Hand will shake you to the core. It reveals a shameful chapter of American history from the not-so-distant past where forced sterilization of poor, mostly Black young women, ruined countless lives. While stories of racism and prejudice are difficult to read, they are important and need to be told. 

It is an unforgettable story.
Was this review helpful?
Fresh out of Nursing School, Civil Townsend heads back to Montgomery, AL and gets a job at a reproductive clinic with Federal Funding. Inspired by real-live events, this story has Civil caring for two sisters who are given Depo-Provera, a birth control drug with side effects in lab rats and not yet FDA approved. 

While Civil is concerned about her part in administering this drug and getting the sisters off it, they are taken to the hospital to get sterilized, at the tender ages of 11 and 13. Civil is devastated and soon finds out that young, poor, Black women are being taken advantage of in the name of helping them. 

Civil, though Black, has, by her own words, lived a sheltered life as the daughter of a doctor. But that life also comes in handy when a couple Black lawyers become interested in what is going on in the health center. 

It's a very sad story, more so because it is inspired by facts not that long ago. It is powerful and thought provoking, which is important in a novel. thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for this honest review.
Was this review helpful?
So heartbreaking, yet beautifully told.  Not much has been said of forced sterilization by the U.S. government.  And I’m not talking about 100 years ago.  As recently as the 1970’s, this was in practice.  And surprise, surprise- this atrocity was forced on mostly poor women and girls of color.  Shameful doesn’t begin to describe it.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez does an amazing job of telling the story of Civil Townsend, a black nurse, who has a front row seat to the injustices forced upon these women and girls.
Was this review helpful?
Heartbreaking but hopeful - a beautiful story and characters that will remain with me for a long time. A story that needed to be told - an easy 5 stars.
Was this review helpful?
Inspired by true events, a young Black nurse blows the whistle on an injustice done to a family in 1973 Alabama.

Going into this book completely blind, I was pretty shocked and disturbed once I found out the story; especially knowing it was fictionalized based on a true story. America has some dark moments in our history and this book helps bring them to light. The author’s note shows reproductive injustice is still an issue in our country. This was a compelling and powerful read I’d recommend to anyone.

“After learning about the Tuskegee experiment, I knew people were capable of all kinds of harm. But hearing this was like learning that evil people were everywhere.”

“The Williams Sisters. Two of the greatest loves of my life. And two of my greatest heartbreaks.”

Take My Hand comes out 4/12.
Was this review helpful?