Take My Hand

Image of Take My Hand
Release Date: 
April 12, 2022
Reviewed by: 

Engaging, suspenseful, courageous, and brimming with a warm heart, Take My Hand will stay with you long after the last page.”

Civil Townsend begins her career as a nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic in 1970 and she wants to make a difference in her African American community. Immediately assigned to administer birth control shots to two siblings in a poor family deep in the country, Civil is shocked to discover her patients are 11 and 13.

Further troubling is that Depo Provera is suspected of causing cancer. Although Civil agrees that pregnancy would threaten the health and future of both children, she observes the conflicting situational facts: the family receives food stamps and government assistance and trusts the hand that feeds them, including the medical establishment; and neither the caregiver grandmother nor the underemployed father know how to read. The implications of this assignment shocks Civil and she questions her role as a nurse, sworn to do no harm. But her rapport with the sisters India and Erica, and their innocence and trusting nature, capture Civil’s heart, and she takes these motherless girls into her care. Through her visits, she gets to know the girls’ grandmother, as well as their father, Mace, a handsome and intelligent man who sorely misses the girls’ mother.

Uneasy administering a drug that could cause cancer, Civil soon disobeys her orders and ejects the contents of the shot into the garbage, determined instead to give the girls the choice to take the Pill.

In the meantime, she arranges for the entire family to be moved out of their mud-floor cabin to Dixie Court, a group of new social housing apartments built to accommodate low-income families.

When Civil arrives late at their cabin to announce the good housing news, she discovers the girls have been hospitalized—and sterilized, with the “informed consent” of their illiterate father and grandmother’s “x” at the bottom of a medical consent form. Clearly the family has been misled to think the procedure “temporary” and “reversible.” At the hospital, both girls suffer excruciating pain from the operation they did not understand they were being subject to. As Civil demands pain medication that has been withheld, she must face telling the girls the truth of what has happened to them: They will never bear children. 

The devastation of this incident thrust upon this family without their knowledge wakes Civil’s fighting instinct, and she begins to create a response that she hopes will help halt the destruction inherent in this amoral practice. Alongside the family throughout the legal battle, Civil learns the personal difference between her role as advocate and inner expectations to be a savior to the less fortunate. As she wrestles with her own issues as a fertile woman and explores her ambivalence, a layered and fascinating story emerges.

Years later, after a lifetime of living in the wake of these events, Civil revisits her complex decisions and the legacy of her choices.

Take My Hand is a fictional story that shines a light on the governmental overreach into a racist eugenics policy—and the tragedy of 150,000 young women who were its victims in the 1970s.

Dolen Perkins-Vadez, author of the New York Times bestselling novels Balm and Wench, has created a multi-layered tale, inspired by the real 1973 case Relf v Weinberger.

Written with empathy, love, and determination, this suspenseful novel exposes the uncomfortable history of anti-Black racist politics cloaked in language and logic of a higher cause. This novel is an important telling of a critical story that has deep resonance and parallels today’s medical/political events. But knowing what’s “best’ for others is a tricky and complex assumption, no matter how well-intentioned.

Perkins-Valdez masterfully tells of these moral conundrums through the clear and compassionate heart of a full-bodied character who is lovable and admirable from the first page.

Take My Hand speaks to the present moment in a chorus of voices embodying all aspects of this engaging story and how these decisions impact untold lives: from nurse, to social worker, to trusting victim, to overzealous administrator, to the poor, to the illiterate, to the unborn who have lost their chance to come into the world.

Engaging, suspenseful, courageous, and brimming with a warm heart, Take My Hand will stay with you long after the last page.