The year is 1973 and Civil Townsend, a Black nurse in Montgomery, Alabama has just started a new job at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. Since she has a car, she is assigned home visits. Excited to make a difference in the Black community, she is up for a rude awakening with her first assignment. First of all, she finds out her patients are living in squalor in a one room cabin. Then she finds out that her patients are 11 and 13 year old sisters, India and Erica. She is supposed to give them this new birth control, Depo Provera but they are so young and have not even kissed boys. She gives them the shot anyways but Civil can’t get them or their living conditions out of her mind.
The next time Civil is supposed to give them the shots, she can’t bring herself to do it. Especially when she realizes they are only being assigned this because they are black and poor. Civil is from a middle class family, her dad also in the medical field as a doctor so she takes them under her wing and helps the whole family (their dad and their grandma. Their mom died when they were young) more often than she should. She buys them clothes, does their hair and even takes it upon herself to apply for a subsidized apartment.
One day, Civil goes for a scheduled visit with the girls and realizes that the powers that be have taken advantage of their dad and grandma being illiterate and done something horrific and irreversible to the girls. Civil is filled with so much guilt and leads the way in getting justice for them. The book takes us down this journey and fastforwards many years later when they are all grown and Civil goes down memory lane.
I was gifted this book for Christmas and didn’t know what it was about but I liked it. It’s a heavy subject matter so if you are looking for something light, this is not the book for you. This book was set in 1973 and in 2023, it serves as a reminder of all the injustices that black people have had to face and still face today in America. The book has parallels and makes mention of the Tuskegee study. Perkins-Valdez does a good job of creating a world that is real and you feel everything that Civil does. I enjoyed the fact that Civil is black and came from a well to do family while we also meet India and Erica on the other side, who were impoverished. It drives home the point, for those who don’t know, that being Black is not a monolith and just like everyone else, we run a spectrum.
I loved how human she made Civil. As a reader, you think like Civil that there is no other route than to help the family, because why not? But Perkins-Valdez adds the plot where it is brought to Civil’s attention that she may be making them feel like a charity case and she has to ponder when helping crosses the line to interfering. Even when the book fast forwards to 2016, you can still see Civil grappling with the choices she made. If you are wondering if the back and forth was distracting, I can assure you that it wasn’t. There was more time spent in 1973 than 2016.
This is a book I expect to evoke many emotions (might not be positive) but it’s oh so necessary for us to never forget what was done before and what could still be. The book isn’t all dreary as there are secondary story lines surrounding Civil’s personal life. Her ex, Ty, her mom and her relationship with the girls’ dad. I definitely recommend the book and despite the subject matter, it managed to be a quick read.