Take My Hand

Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Historical Fiction

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 are children—just 11 and 13 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.

-Excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Check Goodreads to see the book’s ratings.

My Opinion 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) How is this true? Why is it that I haven’t heard of this yet? Go ahead, do a Google search for Mississippi Appendectomy. It states, “The ‘Mississippi Appendectomy’, was the medical practice that provided involuntary sterilization to poor, black, women who were deemed unfit to reproduce.” I have no words.

I didn’t realize this book was going to shake me to the core. The story goes against everything America claims to be. To say I’m horrified is an understatement.

“It baffled me how hatred and goodness could coexist. The world was an enigma. My country was an enigma.”

We follow Civil Townsend, a privileged black woman just out of nursing school. Her main focus was to “make a difference.” She finds herself being tasked with giving young girls (11, 13 years old) the Depo Provera shot for birth control. They are from an extremely poverty-stricken family and when Civil starts asking the girls questions, she realizes they have not consented to the birth control, nor do they need it.

From that first day Civil learned what was required of her, she vowed to be better. “I understood for the thousandth time the enormity of my mistake. The utter failure of it.” I truly admired this woman for her grit. While she wasn’t always making the best decisions, she truly had the best intentions. “I had never known that good intentions could be just as destructive as bad ones.”

“I understood how a person could get so caught up in doing good that they forgot that the people they served had lived of their own.”

“Although I refused to believe there was such a thing as an unwanted child, there was such a thing as an unwanted pregnancy.”

I grew very attached to these characters. Their story was written well, grabbing at my emotions and needing a resolution. I cheered Civil on, believing her to be their only grace. The story went deep, it’s not a story that I will forget any time soon. And I hope many others will read it and learn as I did. I applaud Perkins-Valdez for taking an extremely difficult subject and making it into a story I can connect with.

My only complaint is not getting to “know” this adopted child that was referred to so often. It is trivial compared to the message of the story but I did want that information.

This is a Book of the Month book, click here for a coupon!

General content summary: little to no language, prejudice against color of skin but also economic status (multiple), adoption, a young girls needing birth control (multiple), previous abortion (talk of miscarriages, abortions, not using birth control, some details, multiple references), talk of menstruation and how to care for it, poverty, previous infidelity that a child sees, references to many young children having multiple babies, previous parental death, mental health and previous postpartum depression, experimentation (no medical care given then autopsies) on black men (multiple, previous), poor black women being “sterilized” without permission (deemed “unfit,” children sterilized also),  birth control (types, what women etc), C-section accident (injuries), previous parental and spousal deaths (cancer, few details, multiple), previous evidence of physical abuse, god and prayer (multiple), m/f kiss, child missing, alcohol.

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