The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Pub. Date: January 15, 2014
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Viking!!)
Summary: Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Recommended for: Those interested in the beginnings of abolition and women’s rights, readers who enjoy early 1800s settings
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love biographical fiction. I love books that take actual figures from history and breathe life into their stories. I also love Viking, so it was a total no-brainer when I was contacted about this one a few months back in regards to their best books of the year. Sadly, though I picked it up a few times, it lingered on my shelf collecting dust until last month when I was contacted once more about the paperback release. Perfect time for a review, no? I immediately pulled this one off my shelves and settled in.
The Invention of Wings focuses on two characters: Handful, a 10-year-old slave (dubbed Hetty by the household) and the very real Sarah Grimke, one-day pioneer of both abolition and women’s rights. Alternating between the two girls, The Invention of Wings spans multiple decades, keeping time as these characters grow into the women they will become – and all the joy and heartaches that goes along with it. On Sarah’s eleventh birthday she’s presented with Handful as a present, her own handmaid, and immediately refuses, thus sowing the seeds for her path in life as outspoken supporter of equal rights.
As for Handful, well. Let’s just say she certainly lives up to her name. Her mother Charlotte is the seamstress of the estate, making all kinds of beautiful dresses for Mrs. Grimke and the girls, while in her spare time secretly working on her own projects. While Charlotte has one of the more coveted roles, that isn’t to say she’s content with life as a slave and it’s the night she runs that truly begins Handful’s story.
Other readers have mentioned this is a slow read and it is, but that’s not an issue for me. In fact, I love stories that take their time, forcing the reader to work to uncover the secrets (see: Steal the North ♥) The Invention of Wings meanders along at a leisurely pace, jumping between the two girls literally every chapter – and I loved every minute.
I’m shocked by how little I knew of Sarah Grimke. To be honest, prior to reading, I had never heard of her before and I’m actually upset by that. She grew up in a very wealthy Charleston family and could have easily lived a life of luxury. Instead she followed what she knew in her heart was right: she taught Bible classes to the slaves on Sundays, even going so far as to teach her maid (the character Handful is based on) to read and write. She longed to become a judge like her father and brother, fervently studying her father’s law books and teaching herself geography and math. As she grew older, she began making her opinions known, ultimately moving north to Philadelphia where she became a Quaker and began publishing pamphlets (along with her younger sister Angelina) on equal rights as well as traveling to various churches and town halls to give speeches. The Grimke sisters paved the way for women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, yet their story goes untold.
Despite the slow pace (or, perhaps, because of it) I found The Invention of Wings to be riveting. This novel goes to show that you don’t need to have a dozen car chases and exploding buildings to be engaging. I was thoroughly captivated by these characters – especially now that I know the story behind them – and am kicking myself a little for waiting so long to read it. Now that I have it’s no wonder Oprah praised it and I’m not at all surprised it’s topped book club charts for a year now. The Invention of Wings is an expertly-crafted novel with history and fiction beautifully threaded together. Add this one to my Go-To Recommendations column!
Interested in more? Viking put together a book club kit featuring a really wonderful interview with Sue Monk Kidd, recipes (hello, cocktail!) and a list of other books you might enjoy. I don’t know about you guys, but I love me some book club kits! Now all I’m missing is the book club.. :)
Viking is awesome and has allowed me to give one lucky reader their own copy of The Invention of Wings! All you need to do is fill out this form and I’ll announce the winner this Sunday, May 3. (US only, please!)