Review Eye-opening historical fiction Take My Hand

Review: Eye-opening historical fiction Take My Hand

This cover image released by Berkley shows Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. (Berkley via AP)

This cover image released by Berkley shows Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. (Berkley via AP)

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Berkley)

Newly graduated from Tuskegee, Civil Townsend takes on her first job as a nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic in 1973. Shes ready to make a difference and help the women in her community, but her very first case tests her in a way that will haunt her for decades to come.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is engrossing from the start. The novel takes place from Civils retrospective look some 40 years back from 2016. Being one of the few nurses with her own reliable transportation, Civil is assigned two rural Alabama girls, India and Erica Williams, who are receiving birth control shots. From the first time Civil sees them she is appalled at their living conditions did Black people still live in shacks behind their white employers houses? but she begins to fall in love with them, compelling her to help them any way she can.

Its only a few months after Roe v. Wade decided women have a right to abortion. Its also one year after the public learned about the U.S. governments Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. When Civils friends begin to question the birth control shot the nurses are giving to their patients, she discovers that Tuskegee was far from the end of Americas attempts to control Black bodies.

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The novel explores the complex psychological impact of making decisions about reproduction or, conversely, having those decisions made for you without consent. It also examines the class separation between Black folks, which further divides and weakens a group that is already being taken advantage of. How could the Williams family trust Civil Townsend when shes from money, and doesnt understand or anticipate the problems they face every day? Though shes still a step up from a white government worker, its only a step. She must earn their trust, then earn it again and again. But will she ever earn their forgiveness?

Take My Hand boasts gorgeous design and conversational prose. This being her third novel, Perkins-Valdez showcases her talent and experience through her easy command of voice, plot and pacing.

Throughout the novel, detailed descriptions command rapt attention. Between its sizable length and the immense amount of research and history poured into its more than 350 pages, Take My Hand is an excellent example of a Big Ambitious Novel by a 21st-century woman.

Fannie Lou Hamer, who is credited with coining the phrase Mississippi appendectomy, and Stokely Carmichaels Black Power are just two among dozens of cultural references sprinkled throughout the book, adding context and emotional gravity to the novel. This is the kind of story you want to build extra time into reading so you can explore the wealth of history it draws upon.

Inspired by the real court case Wyatt v. Alderholt, Take My Hand is a reminder that it wasnt just Tuskegee. There have been a long list of offenses, some of which are shockingly recent. By dropping the reader first-person into discovering one such offense, you experience the doubt and struggle of noticing something amiss, uncovering truth and finally determining how to move forward.