Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

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Member Reviews

This was such a powerful read! Based on real events, the book focuses on Civil Townsend, a young Black nurse, recently graduated and her role in the forced sterilization of two young girls in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Told in alternating timelines of 1973 and 2016, we get to learn about Civil's early career working for a Family Planning Clinic handing out birth control to mainly poor, rural Black women. Two of her first patients are young sisters, India and Erica. Neither girl has even begun menstruating but the fear is they could be taken advantage of so the government takes it upon themselves to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, using misinformation to deceive the girls' family.

It was eye-opening getting such a detailed look at this dark part of women's reproductive history - the injustices of which are still happening today. The author does such a good job humanizing the characters and basing the story on actual cases. I especially loved the author's note included at the end where she says:

"My hope is that this novel will provoke discussions about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood. In a world inundated by information about these tragedies and more, I still passionately believe in the power of the novel and its readers to raise the alarm, influence hearts and impact lives."

Perfect for fans of books like Heather Marshall's Looking for Jane and great on audio too narrated by Lauren J. Daggett. Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance digital copy in exchange for and honest review.
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I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a gripping, important book, but brutally difficult to read.

Civil Townsend narrates the tale in two timelines. In 2016, she is a middle-aged Black OB-GYN, looking back and trying to make sense of her life. In 1973, she is a newly-graduated nurse, determined to help people. Her first job, at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, initially seemed perfect. Knowing firsthand the importance of reproductive health, of reproductive choice, she believes in the mission: giving Black women living in poverty some control over their bodies and their futures.

Unfortunately, the clinic was not what it seemed. Early on, Civil was assigned to give birth control shots to two sisters – hormone treatments that had not been FDA-approved. Worse, the sisters were 11 and 13 years old and were not sexually active. The opinion of the head of the clinic, a white woman who saw herself as a do-gooder, was that if they weren’t yet, they soon would be, based on their race.

Civil is appalled by their living conditions. She inserts herself into their lives, finds them government housing, supplements their food stamps, buys them clothes, even teaches their father to read. Her intentions are good. But...

The sisters are essentially abducted from their home by the clinic supervisor and sterilized without informed consent. 

When Civil finds out, she seeks justice for the girls. With the help of a family friend, the other clinic nurses, and an idealistic young white lawyer, a lawsuit is filed against the clinic. However, as they uncover information about the scope of the government’s forced sterilization project, the lawyer takes on the Federal government instead. Tens of thousands of women of color were forcibly sterilized.

The novel dramatizes these events in a horrifying fashion. Yet there is nuance to the story. Civil, too, realizes that she steps across boundaries she shouldn’t in her eagerness to help.

There is a lot to absorb in this novel. It’s based on true historical events. Because the history is so recent, it’s raw and difficult to take in. Difficult too are comparisons with ongoing efforts to restrict women’s access to reproductive health and to deny women bodily autonomy.

In some ways, the book reminds me of The Illness Lesson, another novel where young women were exploited and used as guinea pigs. So much trauma.

Even though it’s difficult to read, Take My Hand is not to be missed.
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In the 1970s, nurse Civil hopes to make a difference for the African American community by working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. There, she hopes to educate women about how to make their own birth control choices, but what happens when she discovers that women and even young girls are being coerced into using it?

"Medicine has taught me, really taught me, to accept the things I cannot change."

Based on a true story and court case (Reif v. Weinberger), this story about nurse Civil and her patients, 13 year old Erica and 11 year old India, was disheartening and disturbing. How or why would anyone think they have the right, the GALL, to take away the reproductive rights for anyone else?

If I hadn't already read a book about this subject matter, Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain (4 stars), then I think I would have found this story more powerful. For this reason, the ultimate misdeed done to Erica and India wasn't as shocking of a revelation for me as it might be for other readers. From the very first pages, I'd guessed it was coming. Regardless, this was a terrible time in U.S. history, and it's important for it to remembered. At the end, the author notes that unfortunately, this atrocity occurred yet again in California on female prisoners from 2006-2010 and on immigrants in 2020.

Location: Montgomery, Alabama

I received an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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I had learned about forced sterilization of people of color in college and reading this book put my classroom knowledge to good use. I also learned a ton.

Take My Hand follows Civil Townsend, a new nurse, in her first post-grad job at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. She’s soon assigned to care for Erica and India. The girls are only 11 and 13, but Civil is tasked with ensuring the girls stay on birth control. The more and more involved in their lives she becomes, the more she realizes that something is wrong.

Then one day, the unthinkable happens, and her morals are put to the test.

Perkins-Valdez does an amazing job setting up the story, crafting the characters, and pacing the story. I loved how we really got into Civil’s head and were able to really know the characters.

I could tell a ton of research and love went into this novel, and hope those that pick it up sense that too. This is a super important book about a part of history that isn’t super well known.
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I loved this book from start to finish. It pulls you in from the very first word. Take My Hand is a true tale of two sisters which is loosely based on the Relf sisters experience with involuntary sterilization. This is a horrible thing to be done to anyone, but especially children. The author does a phenomenal job telling this story. So much so, that it inspired me to do some research on the Relf sister. If you are into fiction stories based on real people and situations then this is the book for you!
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Take My Hand is inspired by the real-life Relf v. Weinberger, a 1973 court case that sought restitution for the forced non-consensual sterilization and medical experimentation on three young Black American girls in Montgomery, Alabama. The novel imagines the inciting events through the eyes of a nurse working for the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. This is a novel to shed light on this period in history and to prompt conversation about medical ethics and racism. It is a well-written book with richly drawn characters and nuanced exploration of right and wrong. In a perfect blend of history and fiction, Dolen Perkins-Valdez has created an entertaining, enlightening, provocative read. 

[Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of this book.]
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This is an excellent book that I think everyone needs to read.  It is inspired by true events that took place in the early 1970's. Having been born in the 1980's, I was unaware of the forced sterilization that took place in the 70's, which was primarily forced on young, poor and Black women and girls.  I was shocked to read about the things that took place, especially knowing it was based on true events.  I was even more shocked to read the author's note and learn that sterilization is still being forced on women, even as recently as 2020.  

The book is told in dual timelines, focusing most heavily on the 1970's timeline.  It tells the story of Civil Townsend, a nurse who is working for a local clinic in Montgomery, Alabama.  She thinks she is helping women in the community, with the story primarily focusing on her treatment of and relationship with two young girls, India and Erica.  I won't go into too much detail, but it is truly a heartbreaking story that you will find yourself wishing was fiction.  

Take My Hand is a very engrossing book that will make you feel some strong emotions.  It really tackles issues both big and small, including having to learn that even when trying to help someone, it's not up to you to decide what is best for them.  

I thought the characters were written with depth and grace and the relationships in this book were very realistic, believable and emotionally charged.  This book made me feel, and I enjoyed every moment of it.  The only thing I would've liked is a little more time with the ending, in the last "present day" (2016) chapter.  But that's not a complaint; rather, it's a compliment that I liked the book so much I wish it had gone on a little longer. 

Thank you to Berkley Books and NetGalley for the e-arc in exchange for my honest review.
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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!!
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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.
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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!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.

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