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Take My Hand

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Take My Hand is realistic fiction at its best.  A black nurse in 1970’s Montgomery Alabama takes a job at a family planning clinic where she becomes a beacon of hope for her poverty stricken patients.  Soon, she discovers she is giving injections of a controversial birth control drug, Depo-Provera, to girls and teens.  The nurse is Civil Townsend, and she wants to improve the lives of her patients, not realizing that her role is creating medical consequences for the young ladies. Ms Townsend is an excellent role model as she refuses to give more of the drug.  She also continues her personal schooling to become a doctor, which is admirable. Still today, Depo-Provera has not been approved for use in America because of its link to breast cancer.  This novel is based on actual events.
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Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez was a profound, enlightening and heartbreaking book. I will never be the same after reading this book. 

We have learned that many things in our history as a nation are unforgivable but yet they happened. We cannot forget these things otherwise, they may be repeated. Back in the early 70's it came out that our government run agencies for women were distributing birth control for women of color and poor families. In many instances women were sterilized without proper informed consent. In this book two young girls ages 11 and 13 were sterilized because they were poor and black even though they were not sexually active. There were more than 70,000 women who were victims of this abuse. I'm heartbroken that there are people who felt they knew what was best for the future of these women. 

I was a young adult back then and for the life of me I can't remember this happening or the trial that took place. We can't forget these things. This broke the summer after we learned of the Tuskegee experiments. How could this happen in our great nation? This is a book I will never forget. It has changed me for the better. 

I would highly recommend this book. Although, it is Fiction, it is based on a trial and a sad part of our American history. I hope you take some time to look up Relf v. Weinberger and another trial Buck v. Bell. You will be astounded.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from #BookBrowse #Netgalley and #BerkleyPublishingGroup. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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Have you ever been so moved that you took to action? In Take My Hand, (inspired by true events) Civil Townsend becomes the catalyst for one of the biggest cases in American courts. This outstanding book holds no punches when relating another American tragedy propelled by Racism. 

The author did an amazing job at identifying all the issues, portraying all the feelings and delivering the facts to readers like myself who were unaware of the events in Mobile, Al. 

That this book should surface now as history is somewhat repeating itself is incredible. I was struck by the powerful feelings it evoked in me as I read. I kept asking myself “how” and “why” but at the same time thinking “yet” and “again”.  

I hope this book and this author get a lot of attention. Dolen Perkins-Valdez is as brave and courageous as her character Civil. As  This book needs to be read by everyone and shared again and again so that it’s powerful message ignites women everywhere to stand up for what’s right and just and fair.
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The story starts with Civil who is a nurse and her father a doctor. During 1970 abortion. Clinicis sent nurse around to homes in the South. This takes place in Alabama. Many poor young girls and mothers were sterilized not knowing this. This really is a story of our time with all that is going on. Civil meets two poor young girls ,Erica and India. Their mother is dead and they live with their dad and grandmother. These girls were unknowingly sterilized. What happens is so heartbreaking but probably so true ,A story that will stay with me forever! Extremely well written  and tears at your heart strings.
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This novel based on real events addresses a terrible injustice in our recent history that resonates in the present day. Set in 1973, it is the story of two poor Black girls who are sterilized without their consent, told through the perspective of a nurse who unwittingly becomes involved in their plight. 

Civil Townsend, a nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, is from a well-to-do Black family, with a father who is a doctor and a home in the affluent Centennial Hill neighborhood. She is shocked to visit a family living in a dilapidated shack on a white man’s farm. She seems naive at first, despite her education and background, and goes along with giving birth control shots to girls who are 11 and 13. But when she learns they have been subjected to irreversible surgery, she is consumed with guilt that affects the rest of her life. 

The weight of the incident is shown to impact others to varying degrees, from the girls and their family, to the nurse who accompanied them to the hospital, down to the daughter of the white supervisor who ordered the surgery, haunted by her family legacy. The lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center is thoughtfully portrayed, and his potential role as a white savior is touched upon and rejected. 

While this is a fictional story with invented characters, some participants in the real events appear, including Senator Edward Kennedy and HEW Secretary Casper Weinberger, the defendant in the actual case. I had read something about involuntary sterilization in Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain, so it was interesting to learn about the case that brought the matter to national attention. As the author notes, the issue is relevant today in prisons and immigrant detention centers, and reproductive justice for Black women remains unequal. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.
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Thanks to BookBrowse and NetGalley for the digital loan of, Take My Hand, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 


Moving between the years of 2016 and 1973,, Civil Townsend is a young black nurse in her first job at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic.   This is a Federal agency that was free and whose clients were largely from poor black families.  The patients became fair game to the decisions of the government programs. They took advantage of the poor, knowing that many were illiterate due to not having the opportunities that others get. Sterilization operations for women and minor children of poverty-stricken families, particularly poor black families that was happening is abhorrent.  

In later life, Civil is telling her daughter about her past history.  She tells her about the Williams family  she became involved with due to her job at the the clinic. The two young black girls and their family fall upon this atrocity of our government making decisions that they deem necessary. 

This is inspired by true events and would be a profound book club read that would make for a tremendous discussion.
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As in many other fine novels about the south, the importance of remembering the past is stressed in Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez; in the very first paragraph, the narrator describes her story as "a reminder to never forget." And that story is a horrific one, made more appalling by the fact that it is based in truth—as any reader who reads the jacket material will know beforehand.

Moving between 2016 and 1973, first person narrator Civil Townsend tells the story of an experience some fifty years in her past that continues to haunt her life and to influence every decision she makes. The setting is Montgomery, Alabama, 1973, a time and place still steeped in prejudice and racial injustice. Civil is a young black nurse stepping into her first job at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, a Federal agency whose clients were mostly from poor black families.

The setting created by Perkins-Valdez is remarkable for its verisimilitude. A native Montgomerian myself, I was quickly drawn back to 1973, to a Montgomery inhabited by black families, many of them impoverished, a few relatively affluent; and by white people, many motivated by ingrained, often paternalistic, racism, others by idealistic passion for bringing real change to Alabama. The well-paced narrative moving between past and present kept me immersed in the unfolding events and in the development of Civil's character as she struggled to deal with them. And the theme of the destroying presence of racial and sexual injustice and its enduring impact on those caught up in it is as timely now as it was forty-eight years ago.

Take My Hand should be read and appreciated and remembered, not only because it is based on a significant landmark case that advanced women's fight for the right to control their own bodies, but also because it is a well written, compelling, highly readable novel. Anyone who enjoys reading southern fiction, reading about the civil rights movement and/or the women's movement, or just reading a good novel with strong character development and a heartrending plot should immediately add Take My Hand to their TBR.
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Thank you, Netgalley, for an ARC of Take My Hand. I hope the published edition includes author’s notes telling of the research conduct to tell this story. This fiction novel feels so authentic. It tells, with intimacy and compassion, about the horrific policy in the 1970s of sterilizing young, poor, black women in Alabama. These young women and girls were mutilated without their knowledge or informed consent. In Take My Hand, a string black nurse organizes a movement to hold the powerful white lawmakers to account and through her actions she brings about enormous changes. Although a work of fiction, I was reminded of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Our protagonist, Civil Townsend, is constantly made to tackle with the issue of doing good deeds that sometimes bring about unwanted outcomes. An older Civil is telling her daughter about her past. She was very young in this story and many of her actions and feelings show her immaturity. But as she matures, she can see her behaviors more objectively. Are acts of goodness altruistic or sometimes selfish? The characters come alive in this novel and I think you’ll love them as much as I did.
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A great historical read on the untold story of medical experiments on black bodies in the 1970s

I knew very little of the deceptive practice of using black women's bodies for medical experiments. Thru the lens of a young nurse, two sisters in Alabama in 1973; one gets to be transported into that inhumane world. The writing is so strong, the characters are well developed and you get caught up in their emotions; the story is compelling and repelling; messy in a way that life is. It would be a great book club selection. The subject matter reminded of the Henrietta Laks book for how black women's bodies were used without their consent or knowledge for medical experimentation. It is also the story of the trial that follows and the courage of a few who stood up and denounced it and how lives are torn apart by so called school of thought to rid the future of deemed 'inept' creatures thru forced sterilization. This story and its characters made a deep impression on me.
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I consumed this book in two days.  I was a difficult read.  I teared up at so many different points in this book.  It was a vital, necessary read.  Civil Townsend is a young nurse starting out in her career at a clinic in Montgomery Alabama.  Civil is a black woman that grew up in a middle class home.  She has never known poverty, her father is a doctor and her mother is an artist.  It is 1973 a few years after the Tuskegee Experiment has become public.  Civil is charged by her Family Planning Clinic to start giving birth control shots to two girls India and Erica Williams.  They are living in dreadful poverty with their grandmother and father in a shack.  India is 11 Erica is 13.  This act will start a cascade of events that resonate to this day.  This story is fiction, the events that occurred in this book have happened, they have happened up to two years ago to migrant women detained in ICE facilities.  This is not something that has been left behind in the past, it is very much still something that exists.  Medial racism and reproductive justice are still issues that people of color come up against in their everyday lives.  This is an important book and a very necessary one.
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Date reviewed/posted: August 18, 2021
Publication date: April 12, 2022

Thank you to NetGalley and Celadon Books for the opportunity to read and review an advanced reader's copy of this book. This in no way affects my review, all opinions are my own.

This was a searing piece of literature that resonates in its contents even today - with more and more mothers in their early teens (babies mean more social assistance and "how much work can a baby be"?) this is almost too real to read as fiction.  The characters are wonderfully crafted and the book is a piece of art - and it is based on fact, not fiction which makes it even more resonating. 

I will recommend this book to friends, family, patrons, book clubs, and people reading books in the park as we do … I have had some of my best conversations about books down by the Thames!
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