Cover Image: Take My Hand

Take My Hand

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Member Reviews

I received a digital advance copy of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez via NetGalley. Take My Hand is scheduled for release on April 12, 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take My Hand is a fast read and offers plenty of fodder for book group discussions. I really appreciated the ethical complexity Perkins-Valdez folded into the narrative and the characterizations. She also hews closely to the sometimes unsatisfying actual history, which I also liked, because the story of the Relf sisters and others deserves to be told without being prettied up for easy consumption. This is a very good, very interesting read.
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Take My Hand is told in dual timelines (1973 & 2016) and is based on true events of the forced sterilization of young, poverty-stricken black women. This story is heart-breaking, powerful, and extremely well written. I was captivated with the story line the entire way through and highly recommend this book.
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Wow. I loved the stories inside this novel. Empathy and passion of a black female protagonist in Alabama who leads you through not only her life, but the life of two young innocent sisters. The tale of abuse of the two young girls who were unknowingly forced a change that would forever impact their lives. This is loosely based on actual accounts that make me sick that anyone could treat another human being the way these girls were. Great storytelling. I must read more by this author!
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The immoral and shameful overreach of the U.S. government on the reproductive rights of mostly black and poor women and young girls through forced sterilization is the central focus of this novel told in dual time lines ,1973 and 2016. While these events are mainly told through the experiences of two young black girls aged 11 and 14 and the nurse who tries to save them, there were many other women in the country subjected to these immoral practices at that time. Even in more recent years, “reproductive injustice “ took place in California prisons between 2006 and 2010. 

This is not just a story that enlightened me, stunned me, educated me, but one that moved me, bringing me to tears thinking about these young girls and women. Taking real events as the inspiration and giving a portrait of the time and place and the emotional and psychological impact on people’s lives is for me a hallmark of good historical fiction. The author in her note indicates what of this novel is based on real events and real people and that made it all the more meaningful. Sad and scary and infuriating how relevant this overreach is even today.

I received a copy of this book from Berkley through NetGalley and Edelweiss.
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A good book is one that makes you think about its plot and characters long after you've finished the novel. Such is the case with "Take My Hand," a deeply emotional novel written by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. It's a story of women's rights, racial rights and doing the right thing no matter how much it hurts.

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

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

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