Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

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Ive been a fan o Dolen Perkins Valdez since WENCH and when I tell you she is one of the best historical storytellers out there. This book really gutted it. It was a slow start and took me a while to get into it, but once it ramped up they really invested me in the story. The medical apartheid that has taken place within the Black community in america is real and I am just... saddened. Perkins-Valdez handled with care the treatment of the subject matter. 

Real talk: Depo is horrible and every black woman i know thats been on has had detrimental affects. (JMO)
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This historical novel deals with big issues based in racism and classism. It asks the reader to look at themselves and question their motivations and intentions. It also provides a little background to help put the mistrust of the government and medicine by marginalized people into perspective.

Civil Townsend is a nurse practicing at a family planning clinic in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973. She is the daughter of a doctor father and an artist mother, and that distinction puts her at the top of the black hierarchy. She is part of the Talented 10th and intends to make a difference to the poor black people who use the clinic's services.

Civil is tasked with helping the Williams family who live in the country. The family is made up of two teen girls, their father, and their grandmother and Civil is there to administer contraception injections to the girls, Erica and India. She discovers the possibility that Depo-Provera injections may cause cancer AND the girls aren't sexually active and decides to stop giving the injections and tells the other nurses at the clinic. And then the Williams girls undergo forced sterilization procedures without consent and now Civil has a cause.

The events in the book take place at the same time as the discovery of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study. It is no surprise that even today many marginalized people don't trust the government or the medical community. It also speaks to well-meaning people who pity while they try to help.

There is a lot to digest in this book, but it is told in a way that lets the reader do that. The characters are interesting and relatable. The story is told well, but I don't know about the need to have the story told as a letter to Civil's daughter - nothing comes of that and we never meet her.

My thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The horrifying depredations perpetrated upon Black people by the medical establishment have been documented in works of both non-fiction and fiction, film and stage. Add to that body of work this stunningly written story of a nurse working at a family planning clinic in 1970s Montgomery, Alabama. Civil Townsend is a young, recently graduated nurse working her first job. The daughter of a Black professional family, she has no reason to distrust the information she gets from medical professionals, but when she is tasked with providing birth control shots to young children, she begins to question the morality of her instructions. Black girls of a certain class from the age of twelve and up were considered likely candidates to become unwed mothers and drastic interventions seemed to be called for. But as the care of her "patients" is taken out of her hands, Civil is shocked at the barbarity of what occurs. Perkins-Valdez delivers a riveting story about the injustices suffered under a racialized medical system, and her characters leap to life in her vivid prose. Highly recommended for many readers: fans of historical fiction, those looking for thought-provoking stories of racial injustice, or simply readers who love writing of the highest quality. Thanks to Berkley Books/Penguin Publishing Group for providing an advance reader copy.
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This book was infused with empathy and honesty, and treated the characters with so much care.  A wonderful addition to Ms. Perkins-Valdez's other titles.
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Oh my goodness this is a great novel. Not easy to read, but definitely a must be read. I learned so much from this book. Might end up being my favorite book read the year. So, so moving. Can’t recommend highly enough.
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TAKE MY HAND, is a historical novel set in 1970’s Alabama. Engagingly written, and well-researched, the story looks unflinchingly at a shameful period in our country’s history, brining to light both the Tuskegee experiment and the forced sterilization of women and young girls deemed “less than,” or “unfit” for motherhood - the poor, Black, and uneducated. This deeply empathetic novel explores the themes of responsibility and redemption, and the ways that working towards good can change us deeply and fundamentally. This would be a great book club selection, with much to discuss about the fine line between wanting to do what is right and taking good intentions too far, racism, bodily autonomy, dignity, and not the fact that almost 50 years later, our healthcare system is still a mess, abortion rights are still being threatened, and racism still impedes any real progress towards social justice.
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Another absolute must-read historical fiction novel, Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  I loved this book. The characters, story, plot, how it all unfolded, everything about it was just A+ and I encourage you to read it too.

SYNOPSIS:

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

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—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 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 their 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.
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The highest praise I can give “Take My Hand” is that it left me a smarter person for having read it. This book engaged me from the very first page. The book made me think and opened my eyes, leaving me wanting, actually needing, to learn more about the historical backstory —- for me the hallmark of an exceptional book. I loved it!

Powerful, thought-provoking, beautifully written. The characters - their emotions, convictions, struggles, and relationships came alive in the pages. The story, built around a candid and troubling look at a case of reproductive injustice in Alabama, flowed easily going back and forth between the 70’s and current (2016).

This book, while historical fiction, tackles topics still very relevant to our time. It is a “must read” for book clubs willing to have meaningful, and possibly tough, discussions - not only about the book, but about the topics of civil rights, structural racism and women’s reproductive rights.
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This was a well paced, wrenching book about the reproductive rights of Blacks and the poor in the mid twentieth century. The story, told in memories, moves back and forth in time, giving the reader a view of the consequences of the health care system's policies. Characters are fully drawn so the reader can sympathize with their circumstances and  feel outraged along with the protagonist at the wrongs perpetrated upon them. The book drew me in and kept me caring about the characters. I definitely recommend this book.
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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.
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I was hooked from page one. The writing is excellent, the character development is perfect, and the historical lesson is important. I had no idea about this ugly piece of our nation’s history, and this book proves, once again, why telling these stories through literature is critical and why no one should stop these stories from being told or limit people’s access to them. 

I am going to share this book far and wide ahead of publication day. I’m so thankful to have read it. Thank you, NetGalley and Berkley!
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In 1973, post-segregation Alabama, we meet our protagonist Civil Townsend who has just landed a nursing job at Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. Eager to be a source of support and to make an impact in her African American community via woman’s health, she hits the job running. Her first case finds her providing preventative care and birth control…………to two young girls, just 11 and 13. 

Children. 

Immediately, she feels something is amiss. Why two poor young Black children, with no voice of their own, no sexual activity to speak of, and no idea just what is being done to them? With the impact of the recent Tuskegee Experiment exposé still making waves, Civil takes these issues, and family, close to her heart and begins the process of investigating not just the prejudices of the system, but her own unconscious biases as she works to get to the bottom of things.

And then, without warning, a devastating blow is dealt that leaves her, the community, and the nation, reeling.

Following the events as it takes place in the present, and in the future as an older Civil reflects on the past, we unravel the painful story —and truth— that is Take My Hand.


~


Oof.

This was not a bad book, but it was a rough one.

Part of what made this such a difficult read for me was the overwhelming sense of hopelessness, both past and present, and maybe in my attempt to distance myself from that feeling, I also lost out on experiencing some of the emotional connections/reactions between the characters and of the narrative as a whole. 

Because of that, I didn't feel comfortable rating it (but netgalley made me, sooooooo). So again, please don’t think this was terribly written or anything similar. It wasn’t! The dedication to getting this story told is so appreciated. I’ve been aware of racial/classist sterilization for a long time, but this story helps bring it even closer to home. Stories like this don’t deserve to be forgotten, even if they are incredibly painful to read. I just think that for this specific reading experience, I did what I needed to get through it. 

~

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing for my copy, and Dolen Perkins-Valdez for writing such a heartfelt, hard-hitting book.
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CW: racism, dehumanization, medical racism, sterilization, discussions of abortion, depression, ableist language
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This book made me angry, in a good way. It is a must-read because it focuses on two impoverished young Black girls sterilized without their (or parent's) knowledge and consent. It is utterly, incredibly tragic! It is horrifying, but it is a history that truly happened, that needs to be known. 

I love the MC_ Civil_ and the young girls who are vividly drawn, you just know them, you root for them, you have hopes for them. Civil's arc_ her growth from a young and naive nurse to being the girls' primary advocate_  is powerful and believable. 

This is a triggering read, but the book is a must-read. 

Thank you so much Netgalley, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Berkley Publishing Group (Berkley) for the ebook for my honest review. 

I just reviewed Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. #TakeMyHand #NetGalley
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I don't normally read titles like this, I tend to stick to my prettily-wrapped YA contemporary fiction. But this was a necessary read for me, and a title I will be thinking about for years to come. It's a star, a profound story that is emotionally gripping and balances between heartbreak and hope the entire time.
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To be quite honest--this historical novel about impoverished young Black girls sterilized without their (or parent's) knowledge and consent is incredibly tragic; there's really no happy ending. However--Civil and the young girls in her care are such compelling and vividly created characters that readers willing to witness their journey will be richly rewarded. Civil's growth from a young and sheltered nurse to being the girls' primary advocate is movingly captured and believable. 

Many thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book was very hard to read due to the heaviness of the subject matter. At times I found that I had to walk away to get myself in the right mental space to be able to continue reading. And this is not due to Perkins-Valdez’s writing, that part was enjoyable. 
I appreciated how the story was told from the past and present, and the build up so that we got to know more about all of the main characters.
Even though I am aware of how medical experimentation and negligence happened a lot more frequently than we realized, it didn’t make this any easier to digest. But it is/was a necessary story.
I’ve read 2 other books by the author, Wench and Balm,  and she is so talented and gifted in telling the stories of Black women and girls. I always recommend those books even though, like this, they are HEAVY but we cannot shy away from them because of our discomfort. 
This would be an excellent book club book for non black women.
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Loved her novel Wench. Great story about a nurse who’s patients are being forced birth control because of their poverty and race.
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Take My Hand is an original novel about reproductive justice beginning in the 1970s in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil, a nurse fresh from Tuskegee University, accepts a position at a local women's clinic. Civil is assigned to work with the Williams family who lives in squalor in a shed on a local farm. She becomes suspect when told to provide birth control to Erica and India, pre-adolescent girls who live with their father and grandmother, both of who are illiterate. The novels opens from there, leading to a federal court battle. The novel is based on historical facts from Tennessee and Alabama. It includes thorough university librarian character, Miss Pope, who offers aid and encouragement to Civil as she makes personal decisions and builds the case for redemption for Erica and India.
Great book for discussion groups.
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Now, Dolen was my MFA fiction and creative nonfiction professor, and she was also on my thesis committee. But that’s not why I’m going to praise and recommend this powerful novel. Dolen’s intimate writing brims with carefully crafted scenes and memorable characters. Inspired by the Relf v. Weinberger case in 1973, the story unravels the medical exploitation of Black bodies and the damage inflicted by and at the people involved. An unforgettable narrative about reconciling with the past and yourself. If there’s a book you want to preorder for 2022, Take My Hand is it.
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Very enjoyable historical fiction read - while I had a vague knowledge of the scandal involving forced sterilization  using Federal funds, this novel brought the heartbreak to the forefront while imagining how coercion and trickery combined with poverty to dupe people into agreement.  Partially focused on a re-imagined lawsuit in Alabama, the basics are well researched but the author makes it clear the protaganists are of her own creation.  Highly recommend.
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