Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Release Date: 12th May 2022 (UK) / 12th April 2022 (US)
Format Reviewed: Proof copy (thank you Francesca Main and Orion Publishing)
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.
Inspired by true events and a shocking chapter of American history, Take My Hand is a novel that will open your eyes and break your heart. An unforgettable story about love and courage, sisterhood and solidarity, it is also a timely and hopeful reminder that it only takes one person to change the world.
Take my hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is one of those stories that you know you will remember in your heart as much as your mind. Even as I write this review, I can feel that warm glow. As hard and shocking as the story is at times, the characters and warmth will completely win you over, and this beautiful storytelling makes space for important lessons and commentary to be explored.
Snippet moments remind us that this whole narrative is a mother telling her daughter the story of her lineage (of sorts), but it is much more than this too and Perkins-Valdez’s device here is brilliant for this reason. It is also about understanding a shared history that shapes us all – the mistakes made, and atrocities committed sometimes in the name of good, but ultimately led by misguided ideas fuelled by prejudice and racism.
The idea that we often think we know what is best for others (the saviour complex) runs throughout the story and is so expertly captured in how Civil grows and comes to understand her own actions too. The story encompasses misconceptions about welfare and the dehumanisation of those of us who might need it, as well as insights that still apply today with regard to race, disability and financial inequality. Take My Hand challenges all this as well as exposing the violation of human rights – the theft of women’s rights to choose for themselves and their own bodies – that lies at the heart of this true story of medical aid in the US in the 1970s.
The nurse (come doctor), Civil Townsend, whose first person narrative tells the story, is a satisfyingly complex character – young, well-meaning but with her own ghosts to face. I quickly fell in love with her and her affection for the Williams girls and rushed to return to her story whenever I could. The voice of her older self is equally compelling.
The time slip device works really well – Civil’s cross country trip as a mature woman unravelling alongside the story of her 23-year-old self. It is confidently handled and lovingly told, and I was enthralled.
I highly recommend this as one to watch in 2022 and I really hope it gains the attention and love it deserves. These stories of injustice – that reveal and challenge racism and prejudice – help us to understand our world and ourselves better and to learn from past mistakes. It’s also a beautiful story full of heart and complexity with wonderful characters to fall in love with.