Montgomery, Alabama. 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference in her community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.
But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a tumbledown cabin, she’s surprised to find that her new patients are 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 their welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her new responsibilities, she takes India and Erica into her heart and comes to care for their family as though they were her own. But one day she arrives at their door to discover the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same.
I’ve not had the best reading year so far. I’ve found it so difficult to stick to books, I’ve been really… flaky. And then Take My Hand drops through my letterbox and reminds me why I love reading so much.
Although I was not totally ignorant of the book’s subject matter, I realised I may as well have been. This book opened my eyes to the forced sterilisation of young people of colour in America, as well as the Tuskegee Study (of which, shamefully, I had never heard).
You can’t help but adore the protagonist, Civil. She has agency and is relatable in that she’s flawed. She doesn’t always get things right but she has a tenacity and empowerment which you can help but admire.
There were points in this book where I actually cried, which is rare for me. I felt like I was truly watching the story unfold in front of me; Perkins-Valdez’s writing is phenomenal.
Take My Hand is also, sadly, timely. In the USA, women’s rights are being eradicated at a terrifying pace. The efforts to overturn Roe vs Wade should make any sensible person break out in a cold sweat. This wonderful book is a reminder of why it was needed in the first place.
Huge thanks to Alex Layt from Orion for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Wishing you a wonderfully bookish week,