Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

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Member Reviews

Amazing and heart retching story of a woman, new to the nursing field, and working at a medical center in the south in the early 70's.  One of her first assignments is to go to the country to distribute birth control to who she finds are two girls, both are young in age, living with their father and grandmother in deplorable conditions, and not yet old enough to be thought of as sexually active.  After learning the birth control given to the girls are not FDA approved, the nurse takes a special interest in the girls and their family, and takes them off of the birth control.  What follows has devastating effects on the family and the nurse, and changes the lives of all involved forever.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is passionate about her topic, and after some quick research, I found she brings to light a topic that still haunts many even today.  Eloquently using specific cases that took place not so long ago, she brings the characters to life and makes the reader feel as if they are part of the community where the story unfolds.  I strongly recommend this book to any book club, especially in this time when female reproductive rights is being scrutinized and debated.
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Dolen Perkins-Valdez's latest book, Take My Hand, is eye-opening and thought-provoking. I felt sad, yet hopeful at the same time. Take My Hand is a dual-timeline story set in the early/mid 1970s, when Civil Townsend is a young nurse, and 2016 when Civil returns to Montgomery to visit the two girls she'd cared for forty years earlier.. Well written with sympathetic characters. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the the ARC.
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Civil Townsend comes from a comfortable Black family. Her father was a physician and he had hopes for his daughter to become equally accomplished. It’s 1973 and they live in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil gets a job as a nurse at a Family Planning Clinic. Her job is to go into the African American community and help young women with birth control. She administers shots that keep girls from getting pregnant but she’s disturbed when she learns she’s expected to give the shots to girls as young as eleven who haven’t even started to menstruate. One particular family is living in abject squalor and she takes them on as a personal project, determined to help them.

When Civil learns about other medical procedures some girls are subjected to, she is motivated to seek justice for those victims. Perkins-Valdez brings to light the practices some clinics used as birth control, without informed consent. Like the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this book points to the abuse of Blacks by a White community who see them as “less.” Travesties such as this need to be known and understood so we never repeat such behaviors.

Civil is a complex character who sees injustice and wants to put a stop to it. Her upbringing demonstrates the spectrum of Black society in Alabama. The family she tries to help has been victimized by the bureaucrats and people in authority. Perkins-Valdez writes to call attention to real events telling the story through the eyes of a courageous young woman who took on the system.
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In her first job after completing nursing school in 1973, Civil Townsend joins the staff of the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, eager to make a difference to women by giving them access to reproductive health care. All of the nurses at the clinic make houses calls, and Civil is assigned sisters Erica and India Williams.

Although she’s told to stay outside, Civil enters what can only be described as a shack without running water or electricity. She’s even more shocked to find that her patients are only eleven and thirteen years old. Though the girls aren’t around boys and have no interest in them, they’re given Depo Provera as birth control. 

With the help of her college’s librarian, Civil researches the drug and learns that not only is it unapproved by the FDA, it has significantly side effects. She secretly stops giving the young sisters their shots. At the same time, horrified by the family’s living situation, Civil intervenes to find them new housing and secure a job for the girls’s father. Her good deeds have unintentional side effects that destroy the girls and embroil them all in a high-profile legal battle.

TAKE MY HAND has dual timelines—the events of 1973 along with a trip Civil takes back to Alabama in 2016 after living in Memphis for many years. Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s extensive research is evident in the historic details that give the book authenticity but the heart of the story comes from the characters who are marked by shameful, racist policies that led to “Mississippi appendectomies” or abuses like the Tuskegee study.

This book about a time in history when reproductive justice was so egregiously violated for women of color and those impoverished or perceived as being unfit mothers is an important read!
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This is a gut wrenching book that will stay with me forever. The author uses dual timelines of 1973 and 2016 to tell this devastating tale. Civil, a black nurse who just graduated nursing school got a job at a family planning clinic in Alabama with all good intentions of helping women. Without giving away the plot of the story, things go awry and she becomes involved in a case where a small town lawyer sues the federal government. The author writes very authentic characters and you feel their emotions throughout the story. Well done! Well written! Well researched! One of the best books I’ve read this year! Highly recommend! #TakeMyHand #DolenPerkins-Valdez #NetGalley
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This was such a great book! 

TAKE MY HAND, based on true events, tells the story of two young Black sisters during the U.S forced reproductive sterilization of the 1960s and 1970s. Civil Townsend is a Black nurse working at the Family Planning Clinic in Montgomery, AL when she takes on the sisters as patients.

The story was compelling and beautifully heartbreaking, showcasing both injustice and hope throughout.

*many thanks to Berkley for the gifted copy for review
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Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is one of my favorite books of 2022! I absolutely loved this historical fiction set in 1973 Alabama. Civil is a newly graduated nurse who has chosen to not join her father in his medical practice. Instead, she is working for a county program doing outreach in residents' homes. In her first week of work, she meets young sisters, Erica and India. She soon finds herself embroiled in their lives in a way she never could have predicted. This story is so well-told. I flew through the pages and never wanted it to end. Highly recommend checking this novel out. Read and enjoy!
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This book is my favorite of the year so far!  Civil Townsend is a young black nurse working at a family planning clinic in post-segregation Montgomery, Alabama.  At first she (and the rest of the nurses on staff) think they are doing a service by providing young (and mostly poor, uneducated, black) patients Depo-Provera in order to  prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Civil is happy in her job at the clinic until she is assigned the case of the Williams sisters-13 year old Erika and 11 year old non-verbal India.  The more she gets to know the family, the less she believes the Depo shot is the right thing-especially for non sexually active girls like the Williams sisters.  Civil grows to love these girls and then the unimaginable happens-the girls are sterilized against their will.  What follows is a heartbreaking and heartfelt saga of the fight for these girls.  Dolen Perkins-Valdez blows the lid off the practice of sterilization for poor black girls during this time and the horrific government overreach that occurs.  Civil is a wonderful character and the bond she develops with these girls is unforgettable.  The fact that this book is based on a true story and that this was occurring around the same time the horrors of the Tuskegee Syphilis study were coming to light is mind blowing.  Not an easy read but so well done  Definitely recommend.
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This book is powerful, it is striking it is unputdownable, (i don’t think that’s a word) but anyway Take my hand is a true gem. 

Civil Townsend is a recent nursing school graduate eager to begin her career and make a difference at the Montgomery Alabama Planning Clinic. In her new role, she’s tasked with traveling to rural Alabama to help young girls by providing them with shots of Depo Provera, a birth control. After meeting two young, poor girls India and Erica she begins to ask questions about what exactly she is injecting into these young girls. From there the story unravels and it is both eye-opening and shocking. 

Difficult to read at times but this is such an important story.
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Stunning and riveting story. I'm not normally one for historical fiction but this one gripped me. I bet people will be talking about this one all year, and it deserves all that and more!! I'm speechless.
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Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is an absolutely riveting story about a time in the seventies when government funded health services were administering Depo-Provera birth control shots, which had known links to cancer. This in and of itself is horrible, but Civil, our main protagonist, soon learns the government is giving these shots to children and even performing sterilization on young girls.

Told in two time periods, mostly in the 70s as Civil is a young nurse and then later in 2016, when Civil goes back to Alabama to see the young girls that she feels and incredible bond with.

Civil is a character that readers will adore. She represents the future of her generation by trying to fix what was wronged. She is  strong, smart and scared of what she can’t control. Her love for the young girls, India and Erica, had me in tears. I love the love she bestowed on them but I can understand the family’s POV of not wanting charity. 

I enjoyed learning about the attorney Lou Feldman, who was inspired by the real-life lawyer, Joseph Levin that took on this case. This was definitely a book where I found myself googling my way through it because I just couldn’t believe it was based on truth. The author’s note gives details about this drug, the law, similar atrocities and how her story is  completely fictional, wrapped around the truths of what happened in the south, mostly to Black women. 

Overall, Perkins-Valdez has brought to life a horrifying fact about our nation’s history that I would never have learned otherwise. Book clubs are going to love this one!
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Take My Hand is timely look at the injustice and inequality of reproductive rights in America based on true events.
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Content warning: racism, sterilization of minors, ableism, depression, abortion

Never has the past felt so close as it does with Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s latest release Take My Hand. Set concurrently in 2016 and 1973, Take My Hand takes inspiration from a legal case that took place in 1973, Relf v. Weinberger. By creating a main character that has a hand in the medical malpractice covered within this case, forced sterilization of poor women and adolescent girls within the same year that the Tuskegee case gained notoriety, the reader holds a vantage point on the injustice felt within this time period while also understanding the contemplation behind several aspects of the Black community. 

As an avid reader who meanders through a higher than average amount of books every year, I’ve found that I’m able to best ground myself in books—even when I work through them in quick succession—when they’re aligned with supplemental media. This holds true with my experience reading Take My Hand which is told from the perspective of an upper middle class Black woman, Civil Townsend. Her parents are a doctor and artist, and she lands her first job as a nurse servicing poor Black families in rural Alabama right after gaining her certifications and degree. Through this job Civil is introduced to the lack of care provided to the Williams sisters— Erica, 13 and India, 11—who have both been receiving birth control shots from the government-funded Montgomery Family Planning Clinic where she feels great pride working at. This pride begins to shrink as she realizes that neither sister is sexually active and that India is not even eligible for birth control. The shock of learning this parallels Civil’s astonishment at the conditions the Williams family lives under—namely living on a white man’s property whom the father provides labor for in exchange for the one-room shack that the father, two sisters, and their grandmother are forced to share. Coincidentally, my YouTube algorithm recently recommended a video wherein a Black reporter and genealogist travel to rural Georgia where they find a man living in similar conditions in the present-day. Having watched this video roughly three weeks prior to reading Take My Hand, I was able to grasp the level of dismay, then recognition that not only are there levels of privilege that keep us from seeing how little has changed over time (in 2022 and for Civil in 1973) but also that as time goes on we lose connection with people as we embrace ‘modernity’—often truly whiteness disguised as progress. The way Civil interacts with the Williams family after learning about their situation reminds me a lot of my experience learning about family history from a great aunt who is currently researching our family’s history. She learned that some of our family lived with a white family after emancipation in Tennessee, though she remains unsure about what the nature of the living arrangement was, as it does not seem to be a typical sharecropping arrangement. In watching the video and reading Take My Hand, I’ve come to a better understanding of what that could look like and what it means for where we are now.

With passages like: 

My daddy had made sure that I was educated not only in my books but also, as he had once described it, in the code that dictated our lives in Alabama. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Picking your battles. Letting them think what they wanted because you weren’t going to change their minds about certain things.

Now, you know how some white folks feel about Black bodies. They think we can tolerate pain better than them. According to some of these documents I’m about to show you, some of them even thought syphilis couldn’t kill us. It was as much an experiment about the effects of the disease as it was a crazy white man’s idea of a laboratory game with Black bodies.

While I admired his demeanor, it was still difficult for me to listen to Lou declare that Mace and his mother had been outsmarted by Mrs. Seager. Yes, it was true, neither of them could read, but his portrayal of them as simple country people whose priority was day-to-day survival fell short. These people were smarter than that. Mrs. Williams could put a piece of sweet potato pie in her mouth and know exactly how much nutmeg was used. Mace could stick his finger in the soil and tell you what would and would not grow in it, could recall the name of trees I had never even known existed. They were more than illiterate farmers, more than victims who’d been duped by the federal government. They were a family who, given other opportunities, could have accomplished much more.

Take My Hand showcases the agency and wherewithal that Black people approach injustice with, a theme throughout the novel. Prejudices could easily lead Civil to remain in a mindset of privilege but her instincts and the support group around her keeps her from invalidating the experiences of others.

Civil’s growing understanding as a fresh college graduate reminds me so much of how my friends and I grew in understanding of the injustices wrought against Black people, possibly including our relatives, while also feeling that we stood on a level of professional proficiency that simultaneously holds us responsible for maintaining knowledge of the world around us and sharing it with people who may not have the same access to veritable information. As the book moves on, Civil’s attachment to the sisters goes from one of disillusionment and guilt to checked savior complex and love. Her emotional detachment from a love interest and other important people in her life makes her relationship with the Williams family that much more intense and seems unsustainable right up to the one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book. By showing us flashes of the thoughts that continue to plague Civil in 2016 after the events of 1973 have led her down a path she resisted, we see that the guilt she carries for what happens to the Williams’ is wrapped up in her love and sense of justice. This mixture of love, guilt, and justice is pervasive in each of Civil’s important relationships—including her relationship with herself. Perkins-Valdez keeps this aspect of her character consistent throughout the story and Civil’s development as a character, which makes Civil feel like someone the reader knows. With the supporting characters similarly realized in the novel, one can’t help but feel you’ve been dropped into these families’ lives chapter after chapter. 

I would be remiss if I did not warn you that this book is not for anyone seeking a light-hearted read. Take My Hand swims in the deep issues surrounding medicine, Black people, and poverty. 

Pick up this book:
if the content warnings and review do not put you off;
if you want representation of many facets of Blackness not long after the passage of multiple Civil Rights amendments in the U.S.; 
if you want a starting point for discussion with the relatives you know who lived through this period;
if you’re used to embracing the harsh realities of what being voiceless in a country that does not care about who it oppresses looks like;
if you have a strong sense of justice and love for community.

Take My Hand is an April 2022 release that already feels like one of my favorites of the year. I do not often feel this represented by any form of media. Somehow this wondrous novel has found a way to represent pieces of me that I did not know needed light.
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“I had a hand in breaking all of this. I had to have a hand in fixing it.”

Civil has started her new job as a nurse at the Clinic. At her first off site visit, she is shocked to see how Erica and India are living, and horrified when she finds out she gave a birth control shot to an 11 year old that hasn’t even started her period yet. When some questions come up about the safety of the shots, Civil decides to take matters into her own hands to help the girls and their family. No good deed goes unpunished however, and when her boss sees what she has done, the consequences for the young girls are horrifying. Now Civil must fight to make sure what happens to them never happens to anyone else.

Talk about a book that will make you cry and infuriate you all at the same time. I really loved Civil, and definitely saw where she was coming from in wanting to give India and Erica a better life. I feel like I would have done the same thing, but the consequences of those actions were just absolutely heartbreaking. It is so infuriating to think that these things really happened, and honestly, not that long ago. This is one I think everyone should read, if only to understand the horrific things that have been done to the poor, and specifically the Black poor in this country. Civil was so full of love and empathy and I think everyone could learn something from her.
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Well, this was a great book. Obviously an emotional read but it's so important to read these stories. Being (a younger) Canadian, this particular case of sterilization was never taught in our history classes so I learned a lot from this book. I will definitely be recommending this title.

Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for the chance to read an advanced copy.
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This was a beautiful book. Unfortunately, it filled me with sadness but it was a story that needed telling. This story also served as a history lesson for me because I was unaware of the original courtcase of legalized sterilization.

 Each character was well-developed by the author. I felt as if these were people I knew, which made it all the more difficult as I got to the end.

Thanks to the publisher for the gifted e-ARC.
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10/10 for the subject matter, 5/10 for the execution. I learned so much reading this book about a horrifying and unknown to me piece of US history. As this country awaits the Supreme Court verdict on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a book about women’s healthcare and reproductive rights could not be more timely, and it cast an eerie shadow over the whole book (in a good way). However, I found the actual execution of the book sadly lacking, and I was bored for the majority of the book. I didn’t feel like we got to know Civil at all. Why was she even writing this all down for Anne? It just unfortunately didn’t work for me. I still recommend the book for the subject matter and hope that I’m in the minority here.
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{@BerkleyPub #gifted. Thank you for my free copy to read and share}⁣

My overall reading during the last couple of years has not included many historical fiction novels, I just could not get into them. And so when I kept seeing some of my trusted book recommendation sources proclaiming this was a five start read, I knew Take My Hand would be my next read. 

Given that this is a fictionalized account of actual events, this book proved to be a deeply powerful (and sometimes quite uncomfortable) look at inequality and the rights of reproductive consent. Books like this are so important, because as we all know too well, "...history repeats what we don’t remember". 

Take My Hand is deeply empathetic but also a blunt reminder of how we may feel like we know what's best for someone else, when we haven't ever walked a day in their shoes. It explores responsibility, the power of CHOICE and is a raw and unfiltered look at human rights.⁣
I finished this book last week and I know it will truly be a book I will never forget. It would also make an incredibly powerful book club discussion.
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Wow! What a fantastic story and amazing historical fiction novel. Take My Hand is heartbreaking and heart warming at the same time as it tells the story based on true events of the sterilization of poor women of color the south in the 1970’s. What Civil was willing to do for her patients to bring this atrocious crime to an end was so powerful and inspiring!

Take My Hand has robust characters and a effortless storytelling style that made this novel immersive and hard to put down. I enjoyed reading about how Civil and  her patient’s relationships deepened over time, and also learning about this injustice from the past. Touching on a lot of tough subjects, while still maintaining the softness if a fictional story, this is a novel you won’t want to miss!

I received a free digital copy from the publisher, all opinions are my own.
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Having recently finished “Take My Hand” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, I am happy to have had the chance for the e-copy; thank you NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group!  

This is a story that informed me of events from the past that I never learned about in history class and was too young to be aware of at the time. I am so grateful for fiction novels, inspired by actual facts, like this one. Without them, or the extensive Author’s Notes and research, I would remain in the dark about some of the sad and disturbing injustices that occurred, and continue to occur, in our society. Medical ethics and racism remain a concern today, and this novel reminds anyone reading it to be aware… and to care.

“Our bodies belonged to us. Poor, disabled, it didn’t matter. These were our bodies, and we had the right to decide what to do with them.”
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