Published: May 12th 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction, Medical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for for this astonishing, powerful and unforgettable novel. Thank you to Alex at Phoenix Books for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.
Montgomery, Alabama. 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference in her 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 tumbledown cabin, she’s surprised to find that her new 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 the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same.
Inspired by true events and a shocking chapter of American history, Take My Hand is a novel that will open your eyes and break your heart. An unforgettable story about love and courage, sisterhood and solidarity, it is also a timely and hopeful reminder that it only takes one person to change the world.
“How dare they? Our bodies belonged to us. Poor, disabled, it didn’t matter. These were our bodies, and we had the right to decide what to do with them. It was as if they were just taking our bodies from us, as if we didn’t even belong to ourselves.”
Of the many profound quotes in Dolen Perkin-Valdez’ astonishingly powerful Take My Hand, it is this one that I feel best sums up its message. If the erosion of human and female reproductive rights matters to you, then this is probably the most key piece of literature you can read right now. A story about poverty, race, eugenics and the fight for justice and equality, this mesmerising novel is a reminder that we must heed the mistakes made in our history to avoid repeating them once more.
“We thought we were doing something useful for society, but this is where the so-called good deed had gotten us. Right smack into a nightmare.”
Set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973, the story follows Civil Townsend, a newly qualified nurse working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. Civil is a young woman who believes in the good work she’ll be doing at the clinic serving poor Black women. She believes in the difference that can be made to their lives through contraception and good care and has a strong moral code that guides her. But when she’s given her first case she is shocked to discover her patients are sisters aged just eleven and thirteen and that they are on the new Depo-provera shot. What follows is a shocking tale based in fact that goes beyond these two innocent young girls and even Alabama, shocking the entire United States. It will leave you outraged, appalled, heartbroken and determined never to allow such a tragedy to happen again.
“History repeats what we don’t remember…”
I believe there are some books that come at the perfect time. That you read them when you are meant to in order for them to have the greatest impact on you and change your life in some way. That is what happened with this book. It feels like fate that this book, set around the time of Roe vs Wade, is being released just as courts in America threaten to overturn it and take away the rights of women once again. It feels like a call to arms to protect these rights and prevent the events of this story from ever happening again as they threaten to do if women’s rights are once again stripped away.
“I had never known that good intentions could be just as destructive as bad ones.”
Though based on a true case, the characters and events are fiction, but Ms. Perkins-Valdez writes so exquisitely that you believe every word is real as she breathes such life into the richly drawn characters that they felt like flesh and blood that stood in front of me. Her writing is hypnotic yet invigorating, both putting a spell on me so I was lost in its pages and filling me with a passion to ensure such evil never happens again. It is a memorable masterclass in storytelling that made this book immediately take a place as one of my favourites of all time.
“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 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 those ghosts to rest.”
Civil is a remarkable heroine and I adored her. Intelligent, strong, brave and kind, she only wants to do good in the world and is devastated to learn that good intentions don’t always mean a good outcome. She is also still trying to come to terms with her own trauma that is portrayed in such a real, but sensitive way that really connects you to her pain.
Erica and India, the sisters at the heart of this tragedy, are two girls that you can’t help but take into your heart just as Civil did. From the start I was desperate to know what fate had befallen them but was unprepared for the shocking truth that tore my heart in two and made tears fall from my eyes. I wanted to hold those sweet girls and undo everything that they were forced to endure. I was thankful that they found a champion in Civil who would fight for them to her last instead of allowing them to remain a silent statistic like so many others before them. She gave them a voice when no one else was willing to hear them and made an entire country listen to what they had to say.
“There is no greater right for a woman than having a choice.”
Magnificent, timely, poignant and immersive, this unforgettable novel rocked me to my core and seared itself into my heart, mind and soul. A story that everyone needs to read, I can’t recommend it highly enough and will be putting it into the hands of everyone I possibly can.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel WENCH. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. In 2017, HarperCollins released Wench as one of eight “Olive Titles,” limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Dolen received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant for her second novel BALM which was published by HarperCollins in 2015. In 2013, Dolen wrote the introduction to a special edition of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, published by Simon & Schuster, which became a New York Times bestseller. She followed that with an introduction to Elizabeth Keckly’s Behind the Scenes published in 2016. Dolen is a 2020 nominee for a United States Artists Fellowship.
Her forthcoming novel TAKE MY HAND will be published April 2022 by Berkley/Penguin Random House.
Dolen is the current Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. On behalf of the foundation, she has visited nearly every public high school in the District of Columbia to talk about the importance of reading and writing. She is currently Associate Professor in the Literature Department at American University and lives in Washington, DC with her family.
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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx