Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Description: Montgomery, Alabama 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a worn down one-room cabin, she’s shocked to learn that her new patients are children—just 11 and 13 years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control.
My thoughts: One of the most disturbing aspects of this novel is that it just barely earns the classification of “historical” fiction. It can make a lot of Americans feel more comfortable to think of certain American atrocities to be safely in the distant past: “It’s a shame, what happened. That was a much different time, though, involving different people than who we are today. We’d never let something that terrible happen in our modern time and culture.”
But this story is loosely based on true events that didn’t happen that long ago. To say the least, it can be less than comfortable to think of a number of people who were wrong or wronged in an atrocity like this as people who are still alive today, and abuses like it did not come to an end back in the far, far history of old, twentieth-century America.
Even coming to this story with prior knowledge of the real-life events it addresses, I still cringed while reading about the abominable Tuskegee Syphilis Study/Experiment on Black men, the “coerced sterilization” of disadvantaged women (and girls) in the United States, and “the history of medical experimentation on Black people.”
I suspected this book wouldn’t be an easy read for me, and it wasn’t.
I read it anyway.
Now, what I was glad to find here is that this book is well-written fiction by a skilled novelist. Granted, some of the story’s points are a bit repetitive; I found the characters pretty difficult to connect with and wound up feeling neutral about the heroine at times when I wanted to feel more; and it seems this novel just misses ending on an especially downbeat, even rather pessimistic note.
Still, the characters are layered, and the story critically explores a range of effects on human bodies, minds, and hearts in the midst of some complex issues. Yes, the issues of ethnicity, class, sex, healthcare, and justice are complex, and in light of the need for further social change in these areas, we accordingly need novels like this.
Note to my blog readers: This book contains a minimal amount of profanity, and while the title is taken from a gospel song, the novel is not Christian Fiction, genre wise.
2 thoughts on “Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez”
Hi Nadine, I’ve bought “Take My Hand”. Thank you for making us aware of this book. I’m in the research stage of writing a story about a botched abortion where a baby lives and is left to die. God bless you, jean
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I hope you get something valuable out of the novel. ❤ It touches on the issue of abortion as well, and I've heard also of successful aborted pregnancies where the babies live: cases of unwell babies who are still alive but dying in the womb, and the mothers decide to end their pregnancies early for the chance to meet their babies and hold them for a while before the little ones pass away. It's such a complex issue with women who have different stories, so I hope the best for your research and writing.
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