Step into the world of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1973, where the echoes of segregation still linger.
In the heart of this transformative era, a courageous Black nurse named Civil Townsend sets foot in the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, determined to make a difference in her community.
Little does she know that her mission will lead her to a dilapidated cabin, sheltering two young girls who have been placed on birth control simply due to their race and economic status.
As Civil’s bond with the Williams sisters deepens, an unimaginable tragedy strikes, forever altering their lives. Decades later, as the past resurfaces, Dr. Civil Townsend embarks on a journey to confront the forgotten stories that demand to be remembered.
Welcome to this discussion guide consisting of some amazing book club questions for Take My Hand – a powerful novel by bestselling author Dolen Perkins-Valdez which will transport you to the tumultuous world of Montgomery, Alabama, and introduce you to the resilient characters who confront injustice and fight for their beliefs.
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Take My Hand Book Club Questions and Discussion Guide
- ‘Take My Hand’ is extremely relevant to today’s ongoing debates over reproductive rights and healthcare equity. The narrative contributes to our understanding of historical injustices related to reproductive health by shedding light on real-life incidents of forced sterilization and coercion, revealing the systemic issues at play that disproportionately affected poor, Black, and disabled women.
What’s your take on this issue, particularly affecting people from marginalized communities?
- Class dynamics within the Black community influence the story as Civil, a college-educated nurse from a middle-class background, attempts to help the Williams sisters, who are from a more impoverished background.
Discuss how this difference in socio-economic status between the two creates both tension and understanding between the characters.
- Perkins-Valdez’s extensive research, including real-life stories like the Relf sisters, enhances the authenticity and impact of the story, making readers more aware of historical injustices and ongoing challenges related to basic human rights.
How much would you rate on a scale of one to ten when it comes to the author’s research abilities? Do you have anything, in particular, to share regarding this situation?
- Civil’s personal history with reproductive choices – having had an abortion before it was legalized – greatly influences her motivations as a nurse and her empathy towards her patients.
Do you think this personal experience propelled her to ensure other women have more reproductive freedom and rights than she did?
- The historical setting of ‘Take My Hand’ reflects the socio-economic and racial challenges in post-segregation Alabama, where systemic racism, poverty, and inadequate healthcare and education disproportionately affected African American communities. In the story, this is especially highlighted in the sterilization of Erica and India, two young Black girls who were coerced into birth control due to their socioeconomic status.
Since birth control is talked about here, let’s discuss it. What factors should be considered when choosing a birth control method? Are there any safe non-hormonal alternatives to birth control pills that you have tried? Also, with abortion bans plaguing the country, would you like to shed some light on this matter?
- Civil expresses her surprise that Miss Pope, who worked at Tuskegee University, did not know about the surgical sterilizations of the Williams sisters. Miss Pope responds by expressing her own confusion and questioning how such atrocities could happen without her knowledge.
Do you think this exchange revealed the pervasiveness of systemic injustices and the realization that even those in proximity to such events may remain unaware or uninformed, eventually emphasizing the need for greater awareness and action?
- Civil Townsend, the protagonist of the novel, is a complex character whose personal history and chaotic life deeply influence her perspective and actions. Her own past experiences and struggles make her more empathetic towards the Williams family, whom she comes to love and feel responsible for.
What is your take on this character representing the the intersection of personal growth, historical context, and the responsibility to protect and advocate for others?
- Dolen Perkins-Valdez uses her writing style to create a vivid and authentic atmosphere of Montgomery in 1973. She includes specific details that evoke the time and place, such as the sounds of ice cream trucks in summer, the drawl of a Southern judge, and the music of Booker T. and the M.G.’s on the record player.
Discuss how through these details, you were immersed in the setting of the 70s. Also, did you for once feel that you are experiencing the events and images of that particular time period, firsthand?
- The phrase ‘Take My Hand’ evokes a sense of connection, support, and guidance. In the context of the novel, it reflects the need for empathy and solidarity, particularly for Black girls and women who have historically been mistreated and lacked protection. The title suggests the importance of reaching out, extending a helping hand, and offering support to those who have been marginalized or victimized.
Do you think the title is justified? If yes, discuss. If no, suggest a better title.
- ‘Take My Hand’ goes beyond entertainment by delving into the deeper purpose of extraordinary fiction, which involves illuminating important aspects of history and human experiences. The novel is crafted in a way that lays bare the boards and bones of its story, revealing the underlying truths and complexities of the narrative. By exploring themes of right and wrong, attention and carelessness, racism and justice, the novel prompts us to reflect on broader social issues and engage with the moral implications of historical events.
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