Reviews of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand

by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez X
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
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  • Published:
    Apr 2022, 368 pages

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Book Summary

Inspired by true events that rocked the nation, a profoundly moving novel about a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama who blows the whistle on a terrible wrong done to her patients, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wench.

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, she's 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 the 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.

One
Memphis
2016

A year never passes without me thinking of them. India. Erica. Their names are stitched inside every white coat I have ever worn. I tell this story to stitch their names inside your clothes, too. A reminder to never forget. Medicine has taught me, really taught me, to accept the things I cannot change. A difficult-to-swallow serenity prayer. I'm not trying to change the past. I'm telling it in order to lay these ghosts to rest.

You paint feverishly, like Mama. Yet you got the steadfastness of Daddy. Your talents surely defy the notion of a gene pool. I watch you now, home from college, that time after graduation when y'all young people either find your way or slide down the slope of uncertainty. You're sitting on the porch nuzzling the dog, a gray mutt of a pit bull who was once sent to die after snapping at a man's face. In the six years we've had him, he has been more skittish than fierce, as if aware that one wrong look will spell his doom. What I now know is that kind ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Perkins-Valdez used the real-life 1973 case Relf v. Weinberger as a launching point for writing this novel. Did you know about this moment in history or similar stories? If not, why do you think these important historical moments are not more widely known?
  2. Take My Hand is told through the eyes of present-day Civil revealing to her grown daughter what happened in 1973. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story this way? Why is it important for us to pass on our family histories?
  3. History repeats what we don't remember. With infamous cases like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the use of Henrietta Lacks's cells without her knowledge, what do you think is the importance of medical ethics in today's society?
  4. So many people in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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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 (Dominique G). The unfolding story is powerful, the characters are brave and unforgettable, and what happened is a story that must be told. Thank you, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, for opening my and other readers' eyes to this unconscionable tragedy (Diane S). Book clubs will love this book as it really invites deep thought and discussions about medical ethics and institutional racism (Jo S)...continued

Full Review (693 words).

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is engrossing from the start...This being her third novel, Perkins-Valdez showcases her talent and experience through her easy command of voice, plot and pacing...Throughout the novel, detailed descriptions command rapt attention. Between its sizable length and the immense amount of research and history poured into its more than 350 pages, Take My Hand is an excellent example of a Big Ambitious Novel by a 21st-century woman.

Ms. Magazine
A searing and ultimately hopeful novel about (in)justice and the importance of learning from history.

Newsweek
[An] impressive historical epic. Valdez's story and characters are deeply affecting and call attention to the importance of recognizing history's dark moments.

Kirkus Reviews
Inspired by real events, this work of historical fiction admirably balances moral complexity with affecting characters. Vividly highlights the deep and lasting impact of injustice.

Publishers Weekly
The medical field's unjust and exploitive treatment of Black people has been covered in the landmark nonfiction titles such as Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and Perkins-Valdez skillfully adds to the literature with a nuanced story personalized by Civil's desire for redemption over her role in the sterilizations. This will move readers.

Author Blurb Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
In her newest novel, Dolen Perkins-Valdez probes the many ways institutional racism and classism inflicts lasting scars, especially on young Black women—and the grace, courage, and love needed to begin to heal those wounds. Deeply empathetic yet unflinching in its gaze, Take My Hand is an unforgettable exploration of responsibility and redemption, the dangers of good intentions, and the folly of believing anyone can decide what's best for another's life.

Author Blurb Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch
Take My Hand is a gem: one of those rare and beautiful novels that walks the balance beam of heartbreak and hope. Dolen Perkins-Valdez demonstrates once again the way she can breathe life into history through fiction that adds deep and profound meaning to the past — and makes its relevance to the present meaningful and clear.

Author Blurb Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
Perkins-Valdez's latest is a piercing look into a shameful moment in America's history, and could not be more timely. Her electrifying, masterful novel brims with fierce compassion and deserves attention and accolades galore. I will be recommending it to everyone I know.

Author Blurb Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
This powerful novel finds the humanity in one of the most inhumane chapters of American history. Take My Hand will enrage you. It will illuminate you. It just might redeem you. In the process, it will take your breath away. I don't say this often, but it's a must-read.

Author Blurb Terry McMillan, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a brilliant writer in a class all by herself. I love her voice and how she makes the past feel immediate and relevant, because it is.

Reader Reviews

Linda K. (Sunset, SC)

Take My Hand
This story of a young nurse who answered the call to serve was a heart-warming read. The historical background of the South in the Roe v. Wade era was most enlightening. Loved Civil's embracing concern for her two patients and her endurance to bring ...   Read More
Ashleigh P. (Round Hill, VA)

As beautifully written as it is heartbreaking...
Take My Hand is a gut-wrenching fictionalized account of the almost unbelievable Relf v. Weinberger case – a modern nightmare bathed in racism, sexism, elitism, and ableism. The government was funding the sterilization of young women, some minors, ...   Read More
Maureen M. (Springfield, OH)

Why was it allowed to happen?
Take My Hand is a memorable, thought-provoking tale with characters you will care about. It is a piece of historical fiction that speaks to the creation of wrongful norms and how they are changed. The opening of this story gave me pause because I ...   Read More
Shey C. (Morristown, TN)

Great historical fiction
This book is heart wrenching. It is fiction but highlights the inequalities women if color face, this time in the healthcare system. It is beautifully written, and stresses the importance of remembering the past.

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Beyond the Book

Involuntary Sterilization in the United States

In Take My Hand, the protagonist Civil Townsend works at a family planning center in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973. She visits a Black family and administers birth control shots to two sisters, ages 11 and 13, at the behest of her supervisor, a man who later orders the girls to be sterilized. This story is based on the real-life sterilization of Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, whose mother signed a document agreeing to the procedure — with an X, because she was illiterate. The family later claimed they had been misled and sued; the class-action lawsuit launched by the Southern Poverty Law Center found many other instances of forced or coerced sterilization. Many of the victims were poor and agreed to the procedure when a doctor told them ...

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