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Take my hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez |book review

Anyone worried about women’s rights and let’s be fair, we all should be, needs to read Take my hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.

Based on real events in 1970s America, and a very disturbing chapter in history around reproductive rights, it’s release earlier this year was timely, shall we say.

Unfortunately, rather than being able to sit back and say, “Thank God we live in a completely different world now”, Friday’s Supreme court judgement proved that actually, that’s not the case…

“Montgomery, Alabama. 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference in her community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a tumbledown cabin, she’s surprised to find that her new patients are just eleven and thirteen years old. 

Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling their welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. 

As Civil grapples with her new responsibilities, she takes India and Erica into her heart and comes to care for their family as though they were her own. But one day she arrives at their door to discover the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same.”

This novel is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read, with themes around choice, reproductive rights and the disturbing link between racism and medical ethics; it isn’t an easy read.

This book stunned me, horrified me and more importantly, educated me.

Told on a dual timeline and through Civil’s eyes, Take my hand tells the story of India and Erica, who have both been placed on birth control. 

Civil questions the ethics around giving them the Depo shot considering neither girl is sexually active, and she’s discovered a link to cancer in the medical trials.

Civil takes the girls and their family into her heart, she’s determined to help them and get them the support they need. 

One day the head nurse from the clinic arrives at the home of the Williams’s and tricks their illiterate father into signing a consent form by telling him it’s for the Depo Provera shot. 

Instead she has the girls surgically sterilised.


And a common practice, tens of thousands of people forced to undergo sterilisation under eugenic legislation in the United States. Tens of thousands of people losing their reproductive rights, losing the right to choose and decide their own….let that thought sit with you moment, let the horror of that take shape in your mind, sound familiar?

A disproportionate number of those who fell victim to these practices were women who were African American, Hispanic or Native American; they were poor, disabled, mentally ill. 

It is inhumane.

Take my hand taught me about a truly disturbing period in history, that I didn’t know much about, it led me to further reading. I learnt that Erica and India were based on Mary Alice and Minnie Relf aged 14 and 12 whose case was prosecuted in 1973. Take my hand taught me about some of the most dreadful crimes against humanity that were carried out and funded by the government. It opened my eyes to cruel medical trials carried out in America.

It is a mesmerising novel, beautifully written and poignant. Its characters are memorable, none of them are straight forward. 

In the present day, Civil grapples with feelings of guilt, about the role she played in giving contraceptive injections. In her early twenties she’s idealistic, she still hasn’t learned boundaries. She is desperate to help but can’t see when her actions go too far, when caring turns into interference and when to take a step back. She’s still learning to be an adult, she still gets it wrong, and I loved that balance.

Reading Take my hand will make you cry; it’ll move you and it will make you simmer with rage. 

Racism, injustice and inequality run through this book.

It’s about the rights of women, it’s about a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. 

The girls in this novel; and the real-life case they’re based on had their reproductive rights stolen from them, that same right has just been stolen from millions of American women.

“There is no greater right for a woman than having a choice.” 
― Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Sitting here digesting this book and watching the news break on Friday made me furious, why are we going backwards? Why throughout history are women viewed as not being able to make their own decisions? Why are women still having their rights stolen and why are we still having to fight for them in the first place? Why does it feel as though women’s rights are only on loan?

The Roe v Wade judgement may be an American ruling, but this is a fight for all women, no matter where you are. 

Read this book, get angry and join the fight.


radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

9 thoughts on “Take my hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez |book review Leave a comment

  1. Great review! This sounds like such a powerful book and one that I’ve immediately added to my tbr. I don’t know much about the events it’s based on but they sound horrific – as is what’s happening at the moment. Thank you so much for sharing x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This book sounds so powerful, so bittersweet, and so poignant! I love that it also sounds emotional, breaking, and horrible, because these are the stories we need to read to come away stronger and more determined to do what we can in the times ahead!


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