Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

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Member Reviews

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take My Hand comes out 4/12.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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,
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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]
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