As first posted on The Modern Green Book book blog
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez was published in such a timely manner. With the overturning of Roe. vs. Wade, essentially allowing states to outlaw and criminalize abortion, this book sheds light on the government getting involved in the regulation (and in this case coercive regulation) of Black women’s bodies.
Set in 1973, we follow the life of a nurse, Civil Townsend. Battling with her own ghosts, she takes a job at a local clinic and is tasked with providing reproductive care to the community. A pair of her patients, the Williams sisters, come into her life and change it forever.
The most harrowing part of this story is that the Williams sisters are based on real sisters who had been ordered to be forcibly sterilized by a government-run clinic. The Relf sisters were real Black girls that this happened to. They are still alive to this day, living with the trauma inflicted onto their bodies through the authorization from the government.
The storytelling in this novel is beautiful. Perkins-Valdez was able to show the passion, love, and determination Civil had to defend these young Black girls who had their choices taken away from them. They were adultified and sexualized way before their time, and no one seemed to want to or able to stand up for their innocence. By being an advocate for these girls, she gave a voice to both them and their parents.
This story also explores many other themes outside of medical racism touching the lives of Black people including mental health, the effects of extreme poverty, services available for poor, Black children with disabilities, eugenics, and Black respectability. This historical novel also references other events that were happening in the 1970s involving healthcare including the monumental court case Roe v. Wade (that was just overturned this past summer) and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Additionally, the book’s note in the back included how we still see the effects of forced sterilization for women of color to this day.
One thing I found really interesting about this story is the way white characters showed up. Sometimes books, especially those that show the consequences of institutional racism, can fall for the trap of writing for the white gaze. However, Take My Hand is written in a way that highlights Black life and culture in a way that feels like it is talking specifically to Black people without having to over explain to white people. There were white characters, some that both affected the story positively and negatively, but they could have easily been replaced by non-white characters and the story would remain the same.
This book was definitely a 5-star read for me this year. Dolen Perkins-Valdez has written other books such as Wench and Balm that I will be adding to my “To Be Read” list, as well. This book is the perfect comfort historical read for fall!
Get the audiobook here!