Thursday, May 30, 2024

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Read by Lauren J. Dagger
10 hours, 57 minutes
Published April 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

Inspired by true events and brimming with hope, Take My Hand is a stirring exploration of accountability and redemption.

My Thoughts: 
I first became aware of Dolen Perkins-Valdez in 2011, when I read and and enjoyed her debut, Wench. I was equally impressed with her sophomore effort, Balm, in 2015 and a short-story of hers that was included in the collection Suffragette City in 2020. So I was delighted to discovery recently that I had missed her third novel when it was released in 2022. 

Civil Townsend is the daughter of a doctor who would prefer that she become a doctor and join his practice. Instead, thinking that she will be more help to the people of her community, she becomes a nurse and begins working at a clinic, run by government, which purports to offer medical assistance to poor families. Civil's first community visit is to the Williams' home, to give Erica and India Depo-Provera shots. She's shocked to discover that the girls are only 11- and 13-years-old, neither of whom is sexually active. Why in the world would they need to have birth control shots? Civil becomes convinced that she needs to help these girls both medically and in their home life. She works to get the family better housing and helps the girls' father find a job. Moreover, she becomes emotionally attached to the family. When the woman who runs the clinic finds out all that Civil has done, she takes matters into her own hands and has the girls sterilized. Outraged, Civil and her parents determine to get justice for the girls, taking their case to court, as part of a class action suit. But the damage to the family, and to Civil, has already been done and none of them will ever be the same. 

Wench and Balm dealt with slavery and its aftermath. Here Perkins-Valdez has skipped forward a century to deal with another great injustice done to black women, the forced sterilization of women receiving government aid. I wasn't unaware that this had been done, but I knew very little about it. Here Perkins-Valdez has taken the real life story of the Relf sisters, who plight reached a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Teddy Kennedy, as the Williams girls do in this book. 

Once again Perkins-Valdez has taken a little known part of the history of black women and opened readers' eyes through a work of fiction that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. And, once again, I'm reading a work of historical fiction, based on reality, which seems to tie into events that readers are facing today. While this time it's not about forced birth control, we are once again facing politicians who seem to believe the government should be involved in women's reproductive rights. This book not only educated me but grabbed me emotionally, just as her previous books did. I can't wait to see what she's working on next. 

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