by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Dolen Perkins-Valdez's Take My Hand is a powerful work of historical fiction that explores the complexity of one nurse's attempts to help her patients.
In 1973, Civil Townsend is a Black nurse who has just graduated from nursing school. Her first job is with the local family planning clinic, where one of her duties is to administer new Depo-Provera shots to women and girls in her community.
Two of her first patients are Erica and India Williams, who are 11 and 13. They live with their grandmother and father in a filthy, one-room sharecroppers' cabin. Neither attends school or has been around a boy. While Civil is convinced of the general righteousness of the family planning clinic's mission, she is not sure how that mission applies to these girls.
Soon, Civil is involved in the family's life, helping them to find new housing, a new job, a new life. But she can't control—or predict—everything.
The past doesn't work that way. You can't just make it disappear. You can't pretend certain things didn't happen.
Take My Hand alternates between Civil's experience in the 70s and the present, when she's a successful OB-GYN who is taking a tour through her former life, narrating her journey for her daughter. The narrative patiently adds layer upon layer to the reader's understanding of Civil's life and the fate of the Williams family.
The book is compelling, thought-provoking, and incredibly moving, and each character has stuck with me. Set just after the discovery of the Tuskegee syphilis study, which experimented on Black men without their knowledge or permission, it confronts the idea that all people—regardless of race or class or gender—should have control over their own bodies. Take My Hand is a brilliant, important book whose issues never outweigh the people who populate its pages.
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