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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

Civil Unrest

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

2023 Frenzied Bibliophile Challenge Category: Book Recommendation

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’m not sure I can do a “you would like this book if” for this incredible story, but I am going to try. Will you like this book? You might if you life

  • Historical fiction

  • Books you can’t stop thinking about

  • Flawed but passionate main characters

  • Interest in reproductive rights

My niece, a nurse, gave this to me for Christmas. My grandmother and seven of my aunts are or were nurses, which is a profession that I am completely in awe of. As Civil Townsend says in the book, nurses are closest to the patients, they see things the doctors miss. It’s a truly noble profession and the people that take it on are heroes in my book.

Perkins-Valdez has written an unbelievable story about a young woman as she tries to understand the world outside the comfortable existence she was raised in. Take My Hand follows Civil Townsend, a newly graduated nurse from Tuskegee University as she starts her new job at the Montgomery Family Planning Center. The Center’s purpose is to provide birth control to low-income and poor women, the majority of whom are Black. Each nurse works in the clinic but is also assigned a family out of the city and in this case. Civil is assigned to Erica and India Williams, who are 13 and 11 respectively. The two girls live in a shack on a farm with their father and grandmother. India, at 11 is non-verbal and neither of the girls are in school when Civil meets them for the first time. This book is about her relationship with the Williams family, how it changes not only her but the course of history. In the book, Civil struggles, as we all do and have done, with trying to help but not always understanding or appreciating how the help is being perceived.

Most people have heard of the experiments that took place at Tuskegee on Black patients with syphilis from the 1930s to the 1970s, when the story leaked and the study was shut down. I knew less about the government’s efforts to sterilize thousands of young women all over the country that the public health service decided either should not have any more children or not have any at all due to the perception that they were too poor or too stupid or both. Perkins-Valdez has created this fictionalized account of the real-life Relf sisters, who at 12 and 14, were sterilized in 1973 in Montgomery, Alabama.

I’m a reader, obviously, I set up a book blog, and I always want to share books with people because I think that by reading stories like this one, we put a face to history. The Relf sisters were real victims, they had one of the most, if not the most, important decision a woman can make taken from them when they were just children. But we can’t know them, not really. But we can read a book like Take My Hand and see the real damage that has been done to people not always with malicious intent but with what starts as good intentions. We should always be thinking of the long-term impact of what we are doing.

Personally, this book also resonates with me as it deals with a subject that I feel so strongly about, which is women's reproductive freedoms. And by that I don’t just mean whether or not you can have an abortion. I mean that women need to have the freedom to choose their own birth-control methods without having to worry about the costs or the stigma. They should have freedom to pick up tampons, pads, midol, aspirin, or whatever else they need when they are menstruating and not worry about how much these things, these very necessary things, are going to cost them. These are things that as a middle class white woman I never had to worry about, there were always drugs available, products at hand, and sick time to take from my white collar job. So many women in this country, the richest country in the world, don’t have these luxuries. But they shouldn’t be luxuries. Half the population spends half their lives menstruating so we need to make sure that they have access to what they need during this time.

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