Take My Hand
Publication Date: 04/12/2022
My Rating: 5 Stars +++ (ARC)
BLOG TOUR April 12
“Deeply empathetic yet unflinching in its gaze… 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.”—Celeste Ng
Dolen was inspired to write TAKE MY HAND by a 1973 lawsuit on behalf of Minnie Lee and Alice Relf. The Relf sisters were only twelve and fourteen years old when they were surgically sterilized without their knowledge in a federally-funded Montgomery clinic. At age 29, Joseph Levin—co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center—filed a lawsuit on the sisters’ behalf, shining a spotlight on the 150,000 impoverished victims across the county. TAKE MY HAND is a fictionalized account of this significant event.
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.
NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2022 BY Newsweek ∙ San Francisco Chronicle ∙ Essence ∙ Yahoo! News ∙ The Nerd Daily ∙ Daily Mail ∙ Electric Literature ∙BookBub ∙Ms. Magazine ∙ BuzzFeed ∙ Parade∙ Oprah Daily∙ and more!
"[An] impressive historical epic. Valdez's story and characters are deeply affecting and call attention to the importance of recognizing history's dark moments." —Newsweek
“A searing and ultimately hopeful novel about (in)justice and the importance of learning from history.”
“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.” —Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
“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.”
—Terry McMillan, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“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.”
—Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch
"Best-selling author of historical fiction (do yourself a favor and read “Wench” if you haven’t), Perkins-Valdez’s profoundly moving new novel about a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama who blows the whistle on a terrible wrong done to her patients is inspired by true events."
—San Francisco Chronicle
“When you know Dolen Perkins-Valdez is writing a book, you know that it is going to be a spectacular thing. And that is the case with Take My Hand. Conveyed as softly as a familial conversation, this is a work that makes difficult things endurable. Perkins-Valdez relays untold pain honestly, astutely, but most of all, gently, like a sage would. That is another way of saying that she crafts this book with great truth and wisdom. As a result, Take My Hand is the kind of rare, elevating, illuminating, useful art that we would all do well to grasp for dear life.”
—Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets
“Take My Hand will break your heart and lift your soul. A young nurse with big dreams of helping her community comes to an Alabama clinic and is immediately embroiled in the lives of two young Black girls, caught first in the trap of rural poverty and then in the spotlight of a national court case as their mistreatment at the clinic's hands comes out into the open. Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a consummate storyteller: profound, transcendent, heart-wrenching.”
—Kate Quinn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code
"Moving, important, and timely, Take My Hand is both a poignant personal story and a riveting courtroom drama. By refusing to accept the status quo, big-hearted, idealistic Civil Townsend sets events in motion that eventually change hearts, minds, and lives, including her own. A perfect book-club pick."
—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Exiles
“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.”
—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
"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."
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“Based on a heart-wrenching true tale of injustice, Take My Hand is a poignant novel that transports the reader to Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1970s and culminates in a dramatic court case against coerced sterilizations. As always, Perkins-Valdez writes with sensitivity, grace and a world-weary wisdom that breaks you before putting you together again. This is a powerful and unforgettable novel that will linger long after you've closed the cover.”
—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette
“Dolen Perkins Valdez takes a moment in our history that has been hidden inside the folds of time and she brings those heinous acts back into the light. This is a riveting story of one woman’s fight against a system that believes it has the right to determine who should give birth in this country and who should not. Civil Townsend’s plight as she seeks justice is heartbreaking, but also inspiring, reminding us that one woman can stand and make a difference. Beautifully written in typical Dolen Perkins Valdez’s style, I didn’t put this book down until I closed the last page and even then, I wanted more.”
—Victoria Christopher Murray, New York Times bestselling author ofThe Personal Librarian
"Delicate and poetic, Dolen manages to fuse beauty and tragedy in her work, which makes her a masterful storyteller and gifted writer. In this story, Dolen speaks eloquently for those who, in being denied the right of having a choice and agency over their bodies, have lost their voice. This haunting tale, captured through the lens of an unforgettable narrator and a cast of memorable characters, will stay with you for a very, very long time."
—Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of bestselling novels Patsy and Here Comes the Sun
"Dolen Perkins-Valdez pens a powerfully emotional tale that calls upon the many ways Black women create sisterhoods. The strength and courage the characters exhibit will stay with readers for a long time."
—Sisters from AARP
ENGROSSING! A hauntingly beautiful heart-wrenching story of hope, injustice, love, loss, redemption, and accountability. A peek inside one of the darkest times in American history.
BLOG TOUR HOST 4/12.
The moral and ethical questions the author explores in TAKE MY HAND remain salient today. The novel takes place from Civil's retrospective look some 40 years ago from 2016.
Montgomery, AL 1973: Civil Townsend landed her first job at the Montgomery Family Clinic as a nurse. She was so excited about this job, even though her dad would have preferred her as a doctor, like himself. She was fired up, ready to make a difference; however, she had no idea how she would change lives. Her very first case tests her in a way that will haunt her for decades to come.
Her first assignment was in rural Alabama off-site: two young girls that would need birth control. The clinic provided shots. Their mission was to help poor people who could not help themselves. They lived with a grandmother and a father. Their mother had passed. None of the family was educated. People like this are afraid of the government and social services due to food stamps and funding. But can they trust these clinics?
Whenever Civil met this family, little did she know how they would impact her life forever. Civil grew up differently and was unaccustomed to seeing the poor conditions of living in a house with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing or bathrooms.
These girls did not need birth control, they were just children. She had to get this family into better housing, the dad a better job, and she had to stop birth control before it harmed them. Emotionally attached, she must take these girls under her wing. She falls in love with this family.
Little did she know the government that she worked for would go behind her back forcing sterilization without consent. Civil is very sensitive due to the fact you had an abortion in the spring of 1972.
Deeply moving and emotional the author pulls you by the heartstrings from the first page to the last. I LOVED everything about TAKE MY HAND by the talented Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I knew I would love it as it checks all the boxes by the description; however, it is even more and exceeded all my expectations. I read this in one sitting and literally could not put it down. I fell in love with the characters that will linger long after you finish reading. Be sure and have some Kleenex handy.
Inspired by true events (Relf v. Weinberger June 1973 ). Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, sisters aged twelve and fourteen, were sterilized without their consent in Montgomery, AL, by a federally funded agency. Outrange by the terrible violation, their social worker, Jessie Bly, reported it to a local attorney. Eventually, the case went to federal court in Washington, DC. The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs was Joseph Levin of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The case is considered a pivotal moment in the history of reproductive injustice, as it brought to light the thousands of poor women of color across the country who had been sterilized under federally funded programs.
The author brilliantly utilizes the historical records as inspiration to imagine the emotional impact of this dark time in American history and others like it. In the author's note, she adds she hopes the novel will provoke discussions about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black, and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood. Yes, indeed this is a powerful story and will raise alarms, influence hearts, and impact lives. An ideal book club pick for further discussions.
You will fall in love with Erica and India Williams, sisters, just eleven and thirteen, and their family (father and grandmother). I absolutely ADORED the Black brave and courageous nurse, Civil Townsend (a favorite character of 2022) who found herself trying to protect this family from the very place she was employed at the Montgomery Family Clinic. This family changed her life forever and she became a courageous whistleblower.
Meticulously researched and beautifully rendered, based on a true story, you will be Googling after reading to learn more about these girls and the injustices.
Timely, and an essential part of our history. Reminiscent of Diane Chamberlain's NECESSARY LIES and her other works (favorite). This is a Top 3 Historical Fiction List of 2022 for me. 5 STARS +++ I highly recommend moving this to the top of your list. My first book by the author and cannot wait for more.
I would love to see a follow-up story with Civil and Ty—they deserve a few more happy chapters together at long last.
About the Author
Photo by Norman E. Jones Photography
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. WEBSITE