When most people think of historical fiction, they picture books set in the regency era, or perhaps WWII, since that seems to be a very popular time period for historical fiction. These two books will transport you to the recent past of the 1970s, for a nice change of pace.
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
It’s the early 1970s, and Civil Townsend, a recent nursing school graduate, has returned home to Montgomery, Alabama, to work at a family planning clinic. Civil has a strong belief in women’s reproductive rights, and she views this job as an opportunity to help the Black community. As part of the clinic’s community outreach, Civil is sent to a poverty-stricken rural area to provide India and Erica Williams with birth control, but when she realizes that the girls have not yet reached puberty and are not sexually active, she begins to question the reasons behind her assignment. As Civil grows close to the family, she becomes acutely aware of the medical abuses—including involuntary sterilizations—taking place at the clinic. Standing up to a racist and classist system will require courage and conviction, and Civil becomes a crusader for justice. By framing the story with Civil’s present-day experiences, Perkins-Valdez reminds readers that these events don’t belong to a long-forgotten past. While this is a work of historical fiction, it’s based on actual events that took place not just in Alabama, but across the United States. Civil’s involvement in the lives of the Williamses thrusts her to the forefront of a lawsuit against the federal government, in an attempt to seek justice for the things happening to young Black women at the hands of federally funded clinics. Take My Hand is a gripping read, and you’ll fall in love with India and Erica, just like Civil did.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records. In early 70s New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues sets off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth. Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything. If you’re a fan of Daisy Jones & the Six, you’ll love The Final Revival of Opal & Nev! This is a story that is rich in atmosphere, has fully dimensional characters with faults, and masterfully weaves in real events to add to the authenticity of the time periods of past.