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Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is published with Phoenix Books (an Orion Publishing Group imprint) and is described as ‘inspiring and unforgettable’Take My Hand is a story of courage and justice, of truth and hope, inspired by the shocking true events surrounding a landmark case that took place in Alabama in the US in 1973. In writing this review I decided not to go into any detail about this case and I strongly advise you do not either until after you have read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Then be prepared to enter a rabbit-hole of research that is extremely disturbing and is guaranteed to fill your heart with shame and sadness that such actions were undertaken by some to so many.

It is during this timeframe of 1973 that Perkins-Valdez predominantly sets her story, a fictional account of that harrowing time in US history. Civil Townsend, now in her sixties, is recalling those years when she first qualified as a nurse. Back then she saw the world as a place where she could make her mark and perhaps be an influencer of change. Her father was a doctor and had always hoped that Civil would follow in his footsteps but Civil chose nursing as she strongly believed that being on the ground would be more effective. Her first job, following graduation, was with the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic.

‘I’d been called into the fold of the health profession as early as junior high school. Although my daddy wanted me to go to medical school, I’d always known nurses occupied an important space when it came to patients. Medicine was a land of hierarchy and nurses were closer to the ground. I was going to help uplift the race, and this clinic job would be the perfect platform for it. Mrs. Seager could have been doing something else, but she had chosen to help young coloured women. Her approval meant something to me. Our work could make a difference.
This was the way I figured it. There were all different kinds of ministers. Ministers of congregations. Ministers of music. To minister was to serve. This work was a ministry serving young Black women’.

Part of Civil’s job was visiting women in their homes who were unable, for whatever reason, to attend the clinic. Astonished one day to find her clients to be two young girls living unkempt in a shack in the countryside with their father and grandmother, Civil begins to question her actions. It’s clear this family needs government support but why are these two sisters on birth control when it’s clear that they are not sexually active in any way. India and Erica lived very chaste and simple lives. After their mother had died, their father was struggling to cope. Neither girl attended school and their personal grooming was lacking. Civil was struggling to distinguish between the requirements of her job and what she thought needed to be done to make life better for this family.

Civil meant well and took a few decisive and solo actions that initially led to an improvement in living conditions for the two sisters and their family but circumstances changed very suddenly when Civil made a shocking discovery. From that point onward Civil’s life changed forever. Unable to stand by and watch, she became involved in something way bigger than her, leading her down a path in life from which she would never return.

Using the fictional characters of Civil Townsend and Erica and India Williams, Perkins-Valdez has created a stirring and heart-breaking account of an inexplicable time in history. Civil Townsend is a determined and courageous individual. Unwilling to step down and unwilling to be silenced, she takes risks and jumps in with her eyes open, and her heart open even wider, to defend the lives and the futures of young Black women. Her intelligence, her fierce sense of integrity shines through as she witnesses, with disbelief, the scale of what is revealed. An incredible advocate for those less well-informed, Civil Townsend believes in fighting for justice and her account of those dramatic and distressing times reads like a personal diary, an actual account of someone directly involved. Perkins-Valdez did spend time in Montgomery speaking directly to some of those who were directly involved in the 1973 case so, although fictional, Take My Hand is very much supported by historical facts.

An unforgettable, unsettling and very important novel, Take My Hand, raises many complex issues and points a finger at humanity for inflicting such heinous crimes on certain sections of society. It tackles head-on morally reprehensible behaviour but it also highlights the hope and the unending fight for atonement and truth that is fought in real-life by incredible people like Civil Townsend.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez“In a world inundated by information about these tragedies and more, I still passionately believe in the power of the novel (and its readers!) to raise the alarm, influence hearts, and impact lives” – Dolen Perkins-Valdez

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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