Monday, July 11, 2022

Take My Hand

Take My Hand
  Take My Hand
Author:  Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2022. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0593337697 / 978-0593337691

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A year never passes without me thinking of them."

Favorite Quote:  "The past doesn't work that way. You can't just make it disappear. You can't pretend certain things didn't happen."

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. The history behind this book is the case of the Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, ages 12 and 14. A federally funded clinic in Montgomery, Alabama provided "care" which supposedly included birth control. These girls were poor, black, and mentally incapacitated. The parents were convinced to allow birth control to "protect" the girls from the boys of the neighborhood. Under false pretenses, the illiterate parents provided consent for the medical "care." The girls were sterilized using a tubal ligation. 

Historical statistics show the staggering number of women and minor girls sterilized in this way. A disproportionate number of procedures were on women and girls who were incapacitated in some way; the theory of eugenics and the aim of preventing the genetics of incapacity from passing forward underlied those decisions. The statistics further show the disproportionate number of these procedures performed on women and girls of color. The Relf sister became the face of a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center agains the US government as these programs were federally funded.

This is the absolutely horrifying history of the United States less than fifty years ago that is the basis of this story. "It is important to note that Take My Hand is not a retelling of these events; instead, I have used the historical record as inspiration to imagine the emotional impact of this moment others like it." (author's note) This book fictionalizes the story through the eyes of a nurse - Civil Townsend. Young and idealistic, Civil joins the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic out of school in the hopes of making a difference in her community. This brings her to the Erica and India, two sisters who are part of her case load.

Civil becomes personally invested in this family and starts asking questions and attempting to improve their lot. What she discovers and what happens next alters her life and their lives forever. Tied into the history of the girls is Civil's own life and her decision at one point in her life to have an abortion - one that was not legally available for it was before Roe v. Wade. Civil's own history becomes wrapped up in the emotion of the reproductive rights of these girls who are too young to even consider reproductive rights at their age.

The book tells this story from Civil's perspective but from two different points - at the time of the events and decades laters as she is retiring from her career not as a nurse but as a physician. This two timeline perspective causes jumps and makes the story at times somewhat challenging. However, that is a minor point to the emotional impact of the story and the history.

What I also appreciate about this book is that it does not end neatly. Life is not neat, and there are often no answers and no resolutions or absolutions to be found. Life goes on, despite sadness, joy, guilt, and all other emotions and despite retribution and justice and despite things that, once done, can never be undone. History must be told and studied and remembered if only to ensure that certain facets of it are never  repeated. An important book and an important conversation as reproductive rights of women are again called into question.

From the author's note... "My hope is that this novel will provoke discussion about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black, and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood. 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."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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