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Friday, November 11, 2022

Review and quotes: TAKE MY HAND

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez 

Book Beginning quote:

Friday 56 quote (from page 24, last page of preview):

Summary: The year is 1973 when Civil Townsend graduates from nursing school and gets her first job at a family planning clinic in her hometown, Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to her clinical duties she is assigned a few patients she visits in their own homes. In her first home visit, Civil meet India and Ericka, ages 11 and 13, who are poor and Black, so the state welfare agency has decided that they need to receive birth control. Never mind that they have never so much as kissed a boy, India hasn't had a period yet. Civil gives them each a Depo-Provera (birth control) shot before she learns any of these details. When she does learn them, Civil takes the girls off birth control and instead works on helping the family get government housing so the girls can get back to school. But behind the scenes Civil's boss picks up the girls one day and tells their father she is taking them to the hospital for their birth control. Instead she has the girls sterilized with a tubal ligation. Now they will never be able to be mothers ever. When Civil learns about what the state did to these girls she helps the family start a lawsuit which eventually makes it to the Federal courts, seeking a ban on governmental sterilization abuse. Years later, in 2016, Civil Townsend makes a trip back to her hometown seeking closure on the events she was a part of in 1973.

Review: I was tremendously impacted by the events in Take My Hand, probably because I knew the story was based upon a real event involving two young girls that were sterilized without their or their parent's consent and that led to a court case, Relf v. Weinberger, which made such things illegal. The book also dealt a bit with abortion as Roe v. Wade had just became law the year before in 1972. The timing with what is happening here in the US with the courts striking down Roe and all the problems this has caused made the read very timely. 

I listened to the audiobook of Take My Hand. I'd put off listening due to other reading projects so I had to cram it in just hours before book club. I wish I'd had a print version to look back on and had given myself time for more reflection prior to jumping into our club discussion. But on the other hand, several of the gals had read the book months early and struggled to remember details. Ha!

Book club discussion: My book club had a very good discussion on Take My Hand using these questions from the publisher. One question that has really struck with me had to do with living dignified lives. I suspect that reality of a family living in poverty makes us think that we can boss them around, come into their homes, tell them what to do and how to do it. Yet, don't they have the right to live dignified lives, too? India and Erika's father and grandmother kept fighting to maintain their dignity and in effect that was what the law suit was about -- even if a girl is poor and Black/Brown that doesn't give the government the right to assume that she will be a bad mother.

A second question which I've continued to mull over after our club meeting is how I had never heard of this court case, Relf v. Weinberger, or the fact that the government was paying for sterilization procedures on poor women and women of color. How many other important historical events am I still ignorant of? The details of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment on Black men had just come to light in 1972, just prior to the story's opening. In it hundreds of Black men were not given a treatment for their syphilis, even though a treatment was available, so that researchers could document the full symptoms of the dreaded disease. One can understand why Black individuals balk at the idea of getting unproven medical treatments after the knowledge they've been used as guinea pigs in the past. This and other topics gave club members a lot of chew over in a discussion. Highly recommend.

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