Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand author_ photo courtesy Norman E. Jones 2021

c.2022, Berkley                     
368 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor

Some things, well, you just make them your own.

You know it happens when you just can’t let something go. You turn it over in your mind six ways daily, and talk about it until everybody around you’s sick of hearing about it. Pretty soon, it’s your problem to have but be careful: as in the new novel, Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, these kinds of things change lives.

If you’d have asked her, Civil Townsend couldn’t exactly tell you why she was on a road trip, alone, heading from Memphis to Birmingham. Maybe it was because she’d heard that India was sick with cancer. Maybe it was guilt.

She wondered if India would even remember her. It had been more than 40 years since Civil last saw her. India was a girl then.

In a way, so was Civil.

That was 1973, a year of women’s rights and political upheaval, and she was fresh out of school, a new nurse at her first job at a family planning clinic in Birmingham. The clinic was funded by the government and most of its clientele were poor, a fact that was hard: Civil had grown up with privileges that few Black Alabamans enjoyed, and she’d been made to fear the people who looked like her, but were not like her at all.

Wasn’t it ironic, then, that the first folder she received on her first day at work was for Erica and India Williams, two girls who were living in squalor, filthy, and illiterate? Wasn’t it ironic that Civil was told to give those little girls birth control shots that could make them sick when she, herself, was carrying a birth-related secret?

Reluctance to do her job led to rebellion, which led her to try to make a difference in the lives of the girls, their father, and their grandmother. Civil stepped in and got them new housing, new clothing, and new lives. But she didn’t help in the end, she made things worse.

Would her own daughter would understand someday?

Based loosely on a real-life, historic case, Take My Hand seems poised for an outrage that only barely arrives, perhaps because the reason for the railing is overshadowed by the main character, fussing at herself and her own decisions. In the beginning, in fact, author Dolen Perkins-Valdez doesn’t make her Civil very likable; even Civil admits that she’s “uppity” and that never really goes away.

As for the plot, well, it’s slow – except when it’s not, and then reading it feels like skimming it, as though you only caught the highlights of it all. This unevenness can sometimes be hard to get through, but you must: that’s where the good of this novel lies.

Which is part of the answer to the question: Should you read this book anyhow?

Yes, maybe, if you’re unfamiliar with Relf v. Weinberger, since this tale may act as a gentler, softer way to learn about it. Just beware its bumps, try Take My Hand, and make it your own.