Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Take My Hand
By Dolen Perkins-Valdez

An eye-opening account of a shocking Story in American History


1973. Civil Townsend is fresh out of nursing school and is back home in Montgomery, Alabama. Her first job is at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, where she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But on her first week on the job, she's surprised to find that her first patients are just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling their welfare benefits, that's reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her new responsibilities, she takes India and Erica into her heart and comes to care for their family as though they were her own. But one day, she arrives at their door to discover that something unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for Civil or these two little girls. 

TAKE MY HAND is an eye-opening account of a shocking story in American history. The story reveals a travesty beyond repair that will break your heart. Civil Townsend blows the whistle on events at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic only to learn the issue is more widespread than she could have imagined.

Civil Townsend’s courageous character guides the story thru a gut-wrenching journey of revelation, heartbreak, and a quest for justice. Author Dolen Perkins-Valdez carefully transports us back to a difficult part of our history. Her writing is poignant, thoughtful, and moving. TAKE MY HAND is a story that is both tragic and hopeful and one that will remain in your heart forever. This is a must-read! 

Author Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the New York Times bestselling author of two previous novels, Wench and Balm. She has degrees from Harvard College and George Washington University.  She is an Associate Professor at American University and the chair of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation Board of Directors.  She lives in Washington, DC with her family.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This is a must-read book. The sterilization of women, mostly minority or handicapped or poor or incarcerated, done without their full understanding or consent, during the last three-quarters of a century and usually condoned by our government is so egregious that it boggles my mind. This is a novel but based on a real case and real people. The story is both upsetting and satisfying but exposes an issue everyone needs to be aware of.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for the ARC to read and review.
Was this review helpful?
What an amazing story!
Very well written. I could imagine the entire cast of characters. The novel is thought provoking and touching. As Civil tries to help the Williams sisters, she learns about herself. A great tale of reflection. When does help become overstepping? This is something that Civil has to try to figure out as she navigates a new world. 

This novel covers themes/motifs including but not limited to: identity, classism, sterilization, inclusion, young adult love, family, and mental illness. Although this seems like a lot, everything was carefully and skillfully executed. 

I really didn't want this to end. 

This novel would be great to use in schools as it is based loosely on real life events.
Was this review helpful?
Take My Hand is inspired by the true story of government overreach in the forced sterilization of poor Black girls. In 1973, Civil Townsend is excited to use her new nursing degree to make a difference in the lives of her African-American community in Montgomery, Alabama. However, Civil is shocked to find her first patients are two young Black girls (ages 11 and 13) on birth control and begins to question the ethics of her work.

Instead of being based on a true story, Take My Hand is inspired by one, giving Valdex-Perkins free reign to dive into the psyche of how the nurses would have felt in this horrible situation. Although forced sterilization is a depressing topic, Take My Hand is not a depressing book. Powerfully personalizing the entire scenario, the story focuses on Civil's struggle: her feelings of culpability, her desire to help the family.

I was most impressed with how Valdex-Perkins showed the friction between Civil and the family, their gratitude at her for helping and caring, but also the common tendency to overreach when charity begins to feel like a Savior complex. Take My Hand is a thought-provoking historical novel that informs you while keeping you gripped by an emotional story and would be an excellent choice to read this Spring.
Was this review helpful?
An impressive work of historical fiction based on actual events - young black girls are sterilized without consent, an apparently all too common occurrence under federally funded programs throughout the US in the 1970s, and truthfully still happening to inmates in state prisons and immigrants in US detainment facilities. It is appalling to think of such things happening in our lifetimes. Despite the grim subject matter, it’s a lovely story and I grew attached to most of the characters quickly. (Also high five to the author for writing a book where I can easily keep track of who is who!)
Was this review helpful?
At the beginning of her nursing career, Civil Townsend begins work at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic.  At the clinic, she is horrified to discover that young girls are being put on unnecessary birth control.  When she takes two of her patients, 11 and 13 year old sisters, off the shot, her supervisor has the young girls sterilized.  Civil, is ready to fight.  Alternating with that story, Civil is at the end of her career as a doctor, and is making a trip back to Alabama where everything started.

Wow, I am still horrified at what happened to those two little girls.  I am glad that Civil was willing to fight back.  I thought this was a very interesting and well paced read.  The modern day story wasn't really necessary, an epilogue would have served just as well.  I found myself researching sterilization and the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies after reading this book.  I hope it brings attention to both of these horrifying issues.  Overalll, 4 out of 5 stars.
Was this review helpful?
The storyline of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez caught my attention, as it is about a young and well-intentioned nurse in rural Alabama in the 1970's. Civil is fresh out of nursing school and ready to make a difference in the lives of poor, young women in her community. Soon after she starts her new job at a federally funded family planning clinic dispensing birth control, she begins to question some of her clinic's aggressive tactics. Why are girls as young as 11 being give Depo-Provera? Why are women encouraged to sign forms that they cannot even read?

Civil becomes involved in the lives of two girls whose home she is sent to visit. She tries to save them from the system, but a terrible act takes place without her knowledge that changes the trajectory of all their lives. I was shocked to read this book was based on a real lawsuit in Alabama in 1973. Two young girls were sterilized without proper consent, and their social worker reported the case to an attorney who eventually sued the federal government and won.

This was a sad but important story, one that is difficult to read but ultimately worth the read.

I will recommend this to readers who like historical fiction about women's issues.

Thanks to the Berkley Publishing and NetGalley for the e-arc in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
In the early 1970s, the Montgomery [Alabama] Family Planning Clinic was “helping” poor families with birth control. When new nurse Civil starts working there, she thinks she is doing a good thing and really wants to help. Civil is assigned to go to the home of two young black girls (only 11 and 13) to give them both shots of Depo-Provera to prevent pregnancy. It’s only after she gives them those shots that she thinks to ask more questions. The girls are so young – do they really need this already? Then it gets worse… 

This was really good. I wasn’t surprised to read, at the end, that this was based on a real life story of two young girls that ultimately led to a trial and changes in laws. I was surprised to learn that Depo-Provera was available in the 70s. I hadn’t realized it had been around that long. There was a current-day story (2016) to go with the ‘70s flashbacks, but I’m not sure the current storyline really added anything to it – at least not for me. I did feel like, although Civil was trying to help, it got to a point where there was a bit too much overreach. That being said, she really did help that family.
Was this review helpful?
This historical novel is based, inspired by real life events. It’s shocking to find there were some programs set up to sterilize women deemed unfit. Who are defined as unfit for motherhood? Most often it is the poor, people of color, disabled that are targeted. Stories like this help to highlight travesties of the past, to humanize what happened, and help to ensure these flawed decisions and actions are not repeated. 

The setting is Birmingham, Alabama, with the frame of the story told by Civil Townsend, to her twenty-something adopted daughter, about her life when she was around the same age. Looking back to the early 1970s, when Townsend started her first job as a nurse at a family planning clinic. Civil’s first assigned home visit takes place in the country to give birth control shots to two sisters. What she finds transforms Civil’s life trajectory. 

The story is heartbreaking, yet wonderfully told. There are moments when the past is broken with the present, speaking to Civil’s daughter, and a few times it felt awkward, but it comes together at the end.
Was this review helpful?
I had heard of the Government's "Tuskegee Syphilis Study,"  but was unaware of the disgrace of government-funded clinics performing  sterilizations on young, poor black girls without proper consent.  Take My Hand, based on an actual court case, is a fictionalized account of that horrific time period -- which shockingly was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dolan Perkins-Valdez tells the story of Civil Townsend, a 20-something black nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, whose father is a doctor and mother is a painter.  Civil takes her job as a nurse seriously -- and becomes immersed in her work.  She comes across a poor family living in squalor in a shack and makes it her mission to help them and the two young girls Erica and India, 13 and 11.  Civil's job includes giving the two girls birth control shots until she realizes that the shots are not FDA-approved -- and even more troubling that one girl has not even begun to menstruate and neither girl has actual reason to be on birth control.  Civil decides not to give the girls the second shot, unbeknownst to her employer and struggles with how to stop the widespread use of the unapproved birth control.  But while she's struggling, she learns that the clinic's head nurse approved and sent the girls to the hospital to be sterilized.  Yes, at 11 and 13 years old.  Civil feels so responsible for not stopping this, although it is unlikely she could have.

The book follows Civil's journey to help the family and assist in a court case to stop this horrific practice.  The book is very well-done, readable, sad, but somewhat hopeful.  I really enjoyed Perkins-Valdez' prose and her shining the light on this horrific, but important historical event.

She also does a great job of the theme of family and belonging and letting go.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Netgalley for the advance eBook copy of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez in exchange for an honest review. This book is expected to be published April 12, 2022. 

Take My Hand is an incredibly powerful, moving, and heartbreaking story that I think all readers who are interested in history, social justice, and the dark side of very recent history should read. Highly recommend. It would be an excellent book club selection. 

The characters are so well developed and the way the story was told drew me in from the get go. However, it is not an easy novel in the least and I caution readers to be emotionally and mentally prepared to learn how the government has so egregiously failed and betrayed poor Black communities using "healthcare" as a façade. Based on true events, we follow the story of Civil, a Black nurse working in rural Alabama during the 1970s who discovers that the U.S. government is funding the sterilization of young Black women without their informed knowledge or consent under the guise of public good. 

CW: medical racism, forced sterilization, dehumanization, abortion, ableist language,
Was this review helpful?
This story is heartbreaking yet also full of hope.

It follows Civil Townsend as she becomes a nurse at her local Family Planning Clinic. She is tasked with giving birth control shots to clients and her first clients are 13- and 11-year old girls. She connects with this family, and works to support them in ways past her job description. After the girls are sterilizes, Civil and the family find themselves in a federal court case.

It was hard to read this story, especially knowing it was based on a true story. It’s heartbreaking to know that low-income and predominately Black women/girls were forced to have birth control and sterilization. I felt for Civil and how she struggled with her role with the family. Wanting to provide support and getting caught up with inserting herself too much.

If you’re interested in historical fiction set in the south, pick this one up.

[cw - abortion, sterilization]
Was this review helpful?
I received a digital advance copy of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez via NetGalley. Take My Hand is scheduled for release on April 12, 2022.

Take My Hand follows Civil, a black nurse in post-segregationist Alabama. Civil is working for the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, which requires her to make home visits to patients that are unable to get to the clinic. Civil’s first home patients are two young girls (eleven and thirteen) who live in a one-room cabin with their father and grandmother. Civil doesn’t understand why these two girls are being given birth control, and is shocked when further treatment is given to the girls. 

Take My Hand follows Civil as she works to make things right for the girls and other patients across the nation. Interspersed with this past journey are chapters with Civil in 2016, on the verge of retirement and trying to sort through her thoughts and feelings of past events. 

While this is a work of fiction, Take My Hand is based on actual events. None of the characters in the novel are based on specific individuals (as Perkins-Valdez could not find good primary sources), but each character feels incredibly real. Civil tells the story in first person, and I often had to remind myself that this is not a memoir. Civil and those around her are fully fleshed out characters, each of which with distinct personalities and motivations.

The story itself is disturbing. It is based on events that I am aware of (including the medical trials at Tuskegee), but the specific focus on a small group made the story deeply personal. I was very invested in the girls and the family that formed around them. This is the power of historical fiction. Focusing on a small piece of a larger story allows us to really appreciate the impacts of the situation.

Overall, Take My Hand is a fantastic work of historical fiction. It is a personal story that reminds us of events from the past so that we have a chance of stopping them from happening now.
Was this review helpful?
This book was so powerful that nothing I write in a review will do it justice. Based on actual events, this well written novel puts fictional characters into a vivid, and heartbreaking historical setting. The story is fast paced and the fully developed characters jump off the page and into your heart.  Highly recommended 

Thanks to NetGally and Berkeley Books for an advanced reader copy.
Was this review helpful?
I read this as background reading for a First Impressions Program on BookBrowse agreed with Jin Yu and other members of the marketing team. It proved a great success with the BookBrowse members who reviewed it with an average 4.8 star rating. So, in addition to the online and email activity we will run for it as a First Impressions book, we will also feature it as a "Today's Top Pick" with a featured review and article -- this activity will take place after the First Impressions program, and I'll send a copy to marketing.

Link to reader reviews (many of our reviewers also post reviews elsewhere or share on social media, and are encouraged to do so).
Was this review helpful?
In the author’s note at the end of Take My Hand, Dolen Perkins-Valdez explains that the story is based on the real case of the Relf sisters of Montgomery, Alabama. She gives us a ring-side seat to an injustice that many may not have heard of through the eyes of nurse Civil Townsend. Civil takes a job at a Montgomery women’s clinic, dispensing Depo-Provera shots, among other duties, in the hopes that she will be able to make a difference in the lives of their mostly poor, mostly Black women and children. When she meets two extremely young patients living in squalor in the rural Alabama countryside, Civil starts to ask uncomfortable questions.

One of the themes of Take My Hand is the trope of “saviors” swooping into people’s lives to right wrongs and fix things so that everyone can live happily ever after. Civil herself is the first savior character we meet. She was raised by her doctor father to push back against injustices and lift others up. When she meets the Williams sisters, Civil barely pauses before she adds grooming and shopping help to the birth control shots she’s actually been assigned to give. So many things about the Williams girls shock middle-class Civil. First, they are incredibly young. One of the girls is so young she hasn’t even started menstruating yet. Then there’s the fact that the family is so poor that they have no running water or electricity, barely any clothes, and very few personal possessions. Before long, Civil works her connections to try and get the family an apartment in Montgomery and a paying job for the girls’ father. Meanwhile, Civil learns that Depo-Provera hasn’t been approved by the FDA, and that there are concerns about the safety of the drug. She stops giving the girls the shot just a short time before Civil’s supervisor whisks the girls away for tubal ligation. That’s when the next savior steps in: white lawyer Lou Feldman.

Civil—both at the time and in the chapters set in 2016—wonders about her role in the Williams sisters’ lives. Should she have meddled in the girls’ health? No one asked her to. She thought she was acting in the girls’ best interests at the time. But then, so were people like Civil’s supervisor, who thought that sterilization was the best thing to do for two poor, young Black girls, one of whom is nonverbal. Ironically, Civil resents Lou’s presence, seeing him as a white savior who doesn’t care about the Williams sisters the way she does. And yet, if people like Civil and Lou don’t act, would the Williams have been able to change their situation? What are our responsibilities to each other when we see others suffering? Or when we see injustice?

Take My Hand is a fast read and offers plenty of fodder for book group discussions. I really appreciated the ethical complexity Perkins-Valdez folded into the narrative and the characterizations. She also hews closely to the sometimes unsatisfying actual history, which I also liked, because the story of the Relf sisters and others deserves to be told without being prettied up for easy consumption. This is a very good, very interesting read.
Was this review helpful?
Take My Hand is told in dual timelines (1973 & 2016) and is based on true events of the forced sterilization of young, poverty-stricken black women. This story is heart-breaking, powerful, and extremely well written. I was captivated with the story line the entire way through and highly recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
Wow. I loved the stories inside this novel. Empathy and passion of a black female protagonist in Alabama who leads you through not only her life, but the life of two young innocent sisters. The tale of abuse of the two young girls who were unknowingly forced a change that would forever impact their lives. This is loosely based on actual accounts that make me sick that anyone could treat another human being the way these girls were. Great storytelling. I must read more by this author!
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
A good book is one that makes you think about its plot and characters long after you've finished the novel. Such is the case with "Take My Hand," a deeply emotional novel written by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. It's a story of women's rights, racial rights and doing the right thing no matter how much it hurts.

Inspired by true events, the author weaves the story of Civil Townsend, a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama who decides to uncover the truth behind forced sterilization of poor, uneducated and mostly Black girls and women. In a story similar to the true experimentation on Black men during the Tuskegee syphilis study, unsuspecting females, including two girls ages .11 and 13, are being treated. The sisters have yet to even kiss a boy or menstruate, much less be sexually active.

In the 1960s and '70s, the civil rights movement was still in its infancy. Actions carried hidden biases. Were the sterilizations meant as good intentions by caring medical professionals to help the needy or were they a way to halt the growth of the Black population? 

The novel follows Townsend, now a successful doctor, as she retraces her past in hopes of putting it behind her. Perkins-Valdez  blends timelines from the past to the present to put facts into perspective -- from the first injection to a trial that changed government policy regarding sterilization. Throughout the story, the main character is unable to let the memories fade. Townsend's former patients and others like them can't be forgotten. As the author reminds us through this emotion-laden novel, forgetting the past may allow it to be repeated.
Was this review helpful?