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The Invention of Wings

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Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

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.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published January 7, 2014

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About the author

Sue Monk Kidd

72 books12k followers

SUE MONK KIDD was raised in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and later took creative writing courses at Emory University, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writers’ conferences. In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction.

When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon, spending more than 2½ years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and 8 million copies worldwide. Bees was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004, long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize in England, and won numerous awards. The novel was adapted into a award-winning movie and an Off-Broadway musical.

The Mermaid Chair spent 24 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching the #1 position, and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. The novel won the Nation Quill Award and was made into the television movie.

The Invention of Wings, her third novel, was published in 2014 to wide critical acclaim and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for 9 months. It was selected for Oprah Winfrey's Bookclub 2.0 and other awards. Wings has been translated to 20+ languages.

She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor.

Her latest novel, The Book of Longings, is to be published on April 21, 2020.

Kidd lives in North Carolina with her husband.

Please visit www.suemonkkidd.com for more information. Follow Sue on Twitter & Instagram @SueMonkKidd and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/suemonkkidd

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 25,486 reviews
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,779 followers
August 10, 2016
A must read! I found this to be one of the most powerful novels I've read... I'm from South Carolina and I love Charleston but not always her history. Im very sad that the courageousness of the Grimke Sisters is not more well known here. Wonderful writting... the atrocities of slavery and its affects are so well depicted in the voices of Sarah and Hettie. Thank you Sue for sharing this amazing story. 5 HUGE stars!
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
January 17, 2014
We think that we know something about the atrocities of slavery because we learned about it in American history class, or we saw glimpses of it in a movie or a book. But it isn't until we confront a depiction of it that seems so real and horrible, that we realize how very little we really know of the injustice of slavery. Sue Monk Kidd has provided that depiction in this amazing novel.

In blending fact and fiction, she tells the story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two sisters from Charleston, S.C. who devote their lives to the abolition of slavery and to the women's rights movement in the 1800's. It is also the courageous story of Handful (Hetty),her mother Charlotte, and sister Sky, slaves to the Grimke family. While, Kidd in her notes gives details of her research and clarifies what was fact and what was fiction in the novel, I loved that one of my favorite parts of the book was true - Sarah teaches Handful to read.
The journey of these courageous children who become courageous women against the odds is a story that will stay with me.
At the end of the novel,in her notes, Kidd says she was inspired by the words of Professor Julius Lester, which she kept propped on her desk: "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Sarah and Angelina felt that pain and Kidd has helped us imagine a little of that pain.
Rather than repeat details of the story here,I will just say that I cannot recommend this book enough. For anyone who loved, The Secret Life of Bees, this novel touch you in the same way and then some more.
Profile Image for Sally.
11 reviews18 followers
January 21, 2014
I don't know how the book I read can be the same that has received 4 and 5 stars. I found the book to be mediocre at best. With very little character development the book is shallow. I felt nothing for anyone with the possible exception of Handful. Even Charleston, a character herself, especially in the slave trade, was poorly developed. This is a missed opportunity as the history coupled with the fictionalized account could have been very good. I was sadly disappointed.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,295 reviews35k followers
September 29, 2020
Such an amazing book. I loved every page of it! This book was amazing. I love books that make one think and feel and this book did both. Parts were inspiring, parts were devastating, disturbing, etc. This is the story of mainly 2 women but also more women of note are also in this book as minor characters. The novel really begins when an 11 year old daughter of a plantation owner is given a slave for her 11th birthday. Well, actually the novel begins when Sarah experiences speaking difficulties after seeing a slave whipped at the age of 4. She doesn't know quite what to do or how to act when given a slave for her 11th birthday. A slave that although she tries, she cannot free. Sarah also does not feel free herself, she years to do things with her life - careers only allowed for men. She feels trapped being a woman -wanting to do something "big" and important in her life, but being constantly told she cannot because she is female.

Hetty "Handful” Grimke, is the slave whom Sarah is given for her 11th birthday. She is also a child and they basically grown up together. One a slave and one a slave owner but they share a special bond. Through Hetty and her mother Charlotte, we learn about the atrocities (one legged punishment for example) and horrors of slave life and treatment. What it is like to be owned by another person. What it is like to yearn for freedom, to speak your mind, and to live your own life but not being able to do so, because you belong to another. Their (Charlotte and Hetty) story is heartbreaking and tragic but also tells of strength, courage and dignity. I love how both Charlotte and Hetty/Handful constantly push the boundaries in an attempt to live their own lives and to strive for something better.

The books alternates between Sarah and Hetty's two voices. We learn about both of their lives, their hopes and their dreams, their fears, their anxieties, and their thoughts on one another. We learn about both of their intertwined lives over a 35 year span. I love the part in the book (and I am paraphrasing) where Hetty tells Sarah that her (Hetty's) body may not be free but her mind is her own and that Sarah's body is free but her mind (Sarah's) is not her own. I know some people did not are for the alternating voices but I loved it. I thought it was brilliant and really gave us a glimpse of both women. Each of their stories was important and needed to be told.

As the book comes to a close, Handful will endure loss, grief, abuse, disfigurement, and sorrow, but will also learn she is stronger than she thinks. Sarah will experience seeing her hopes crushed, the inability to obtain her work/spiritual goals, unrequited love, and ostracism from her peers. But she also finds strength in herself, her spiritual beliefs and in the special bond she shares with the younger sister, Nina whom she helped to raise. With her sister's help, they become some of the first women to speak out against slavery and women's rights.

I even loved the footnotes where the Author tells us how the real life story of the Grimke sisters inspired her book. Not all of her characters were real, some were based on real people but some were invented. She does a great job in telling us why she wrote what she did and what liberties she took with their story.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Donna .
485 reviews124 followers
January 29, 2014
Audiobooks have been my preferred reading format for about 5 years now, and I probably listen to at least 30 audiobooks a year, but it is rare that I come across an audio so beautifully narrated and a story so deeply stirring that it leaves me feeling like anything I can say about it will be inadequate.

The Invention of Wings was a powerful story of a turbulent time in history and that was conveyed in the brilliant narration by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye. The story alternates points of view from Sarah Grimke and a slave on her parents' plantation named Handful. Lamia and Oduye brought the story, the people, and the places to vivid life. I was so immersed in their narration that I felt like I was sitting on the porch of the South Carolina plantation house sipping sweet tea and hoping for a breeze while watching all of this play out.

I didn't know before reading that The Invention of Wings was based on the true story of Sarah Grimke and her sister. Beginning from Grimke's early childhood, Wings shows how she struggled to come to terms with a system that she couldn't accept and to somehow find her own place in the world, going against all convention and expectations for women in the deep south. Handful's story was a glimpse of what life was like for a slave, her hopes, dreams, and many hardships. Her story was poignant yet full of life and perseverance.

The main characters' POV were engrossing but the secondary characters were also complex and compelling. In particular, Sarah's mother fascinated me. It seemed she also struggled with her rigid belief in their way of life and her love for her family as well as what seemed like a bit of jealousy over Sarah's intelligence and courage.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. If you decide to read this, get the audio. Not only is it one of the best audio narrations I've listened to, but I've seen quite a few complaints about the print and ebook version being difficult to read because of notes by Oprah.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
February 17, 2021
Where to start in trying to explain all the amazing things this novel contained. It is powerful, intense, profound and amazing in every way. The real life

Grimke sisters, born into a family of wealth, on a plantation that of course had slaves, in Charleston in the middle of the 19th century, but before the Civil War. This is their story and the story of others who also fought for the abolishment of slavery. It is also the story of Handful, a slave and her mother on the Gremke plantation.

Some was hard to read, the whippings and other mistreatment of the slaves, their longing to be free and the many times they had to swallow what they really thought when in their owner's presence. The conversations, the characters, well rounded and exactly right. Sarah Mapps, a black woman who opened the first school for blacks in Philadelphia, a free black and a woman trying to influence others in her own way. So many characters that actually existed in history.

Loved that the author took time to explain her research and her fascination with this subject. She also explains who and what were real and what was not. Always appreciated in a historical novel.

Read yesterday that this has been picked up by Oprah's bookclub and I would not be at all surprised to find that this will be made into a movie someday. Not because it is melodramatic, because it is not, but because the lives of the Gremke sisters need to be acknowledged and more widely known.

ARC from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
553 reviews259 followers
January 19, 2014
Sue Monk Kidd is the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees so it's no surprise that she's back on the scene with an Oprah approved title. The Invention of Wings, similar to it's Bees, takes place in the south and follows the lives of two women. Where the two novels differ is that The Invention of Wings takes place during a time in American history when the south wanted nothing more than to preserve its lot in the slave trade.

Sarah Grimke and Hetty(Handful) alternate the narration of this inspiring story. Each woman is anxious to find freedom. For one, that freedom is physical, and the other freedom from backwards thinking.

Sarah is from an aristocratic southern family where her father is a judge on South Carolina's highest court. She expects that some day she will be able to walk in his footsteps. For her 11th birthday she is given a slave named Hetty. The idea of owning someone is preposterous to Sarah, even then at a young age after seeing slaves savagely whipped and beaten.

Although this novel is based off of a true person, Handful is a fictional character. Sue Monk Kidd uses Handful's story as a slave to juxtapose with Sarah's own feelings of being trapped. Handful's story is also more emotional than Sarah's. This allows readers to get the sentimental intended value without noticing that it lacks somewhat in Sarah Grimke's storyline. Although each character experiences loss, Handful's story is more appalling.

Sue Monk Kidd gives readers a fictionalized account of a woman who is considered a pretty big deal in the Feminist Movement as well as abolitionism. Sarah wanted equality for all humans. Even during moments when the abolition movement needed more traction, she would not conform to elders who asked her to only support abolition. She felt it was her duty give both equal attention since both topics were of the highest importance to her and she very much believed this was her life's calling.

I very much enjoyed my first read, The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. I even appreciate her providing where she differed from Sarah's true life and where she opted for what would make a better story. Kidd's fans will want to read this, and the Oprah 2.0 stamp on the jacket cover won't hurt. I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to read an inspiring, enthralling narrative covering the life of two very different woman who have one common goal: Freedom.

Copy provided by Viking via Netgalley
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
993 reviews2,780 followers
April 25, 2021
***Just listened to this in audiobook format and it's really good. The message is still as strong as it was 7 years ago

This novel takes place in the early 1800's and the story starts in Charleston. The Grimke's were a wealthy family, the father was a judge and very highly regarded. One of the sisters, Sara, never really feels as though she fits in the household.

At the age of 11, she is given a girl slave, 10 years old, named Hetty, given to her as a birthday present! She intuitively knows that slavery is wrong and tried numerous times to "return" her "gift".

In their remarkable journey over the next 35 years, both strive for a life of their own, shaping each other's destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance and the final great act of courage, when Sara rescues Hetty and her sister Sara from Charleston and brings them to Philadelphia in the free north.

There is a lot to like about this book. Very in depth characters and well researched and documented events. Sara finds her way to the Quaker religion only to have to leave that faith when she becomes very vocal about the abolition of slavery. Eventually she is joined by Nina, her younger sister, who has also been a rebel and outspoken member of the family. Between them they go on many lecture tours and write pamphlets and letters about the abolition of slavery and then later about women's rights.

***This is one of my all time favorite historical novels. Though read in 2014 the message in the novel is timeless and this author's writing is absolutely brilliant***

Highly recommend to historical fiction lovers!
Profile Image for Britany.
967 reviews417 followers
January 1, 2018
I was not expecting this book to grab my heartstrings and pull the way that it did. It was unexpected, fresh, and interesting. I literally read this book in two sittings, and wasn't ready for it to end when it did. In fact, I actually thought I had more to read, but quickly found out that the author's note was stuck in there!!

Sue Monk Kidd outdid herself with the amount of research she had to do to keep this novel accurate, and taking liberties with telling the story of Hetty Handful and Sarah Grimke. This novel is about sisters. The true sisters Nina & Sarah Grimke- living in South on a plantation with slaves, and the sisterhood that develops between Sarah and Hetty-- the slave that is given to Sarah on her 11th birthday. The journey that Hetty and Sarah end up taking circles around and eventually they each grow to masterful heights with their courage and strength.

I found myself rooting for these women and hoping that the story would end happily, and at the end, I wanted to research the true stories of the Grimke sisters, along with some of the other characters that are introduced throughout this book.

My review doesn't even compare to describe how I felt about this book! Highly recommend :)

I received this book as an ARC from the publisher.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
September 6, 2018
$1.99 Kindle sale, Sept. 6, 2018. A strong 4 stars. This is a semi-factual novelization of the life of Sarah Grimke, an actual abolitionist and women's rights advocate born in Charleston, S.C. in the early 1800s. It's also a tales of slavery, as the novel alternates each chapter between the voices of Sarah and her slave Hetty, or Handful (who was very loosely based on an actual person).

Angelina and Sarah Grimke, southern ladies, sisters and early abolitionists.

Sarah, an intelligent, introspective daughter of one of the wealthy slaveholding families in Charleston, South Carolina, is given a slave of her own when she is eleven years old. Hetty, the slave (named "Handful" by her own people), is a year younger than Sarah. Sarah immediately tries to free Handful, but Sarah's parents quash that move. So begins the uneasy relationship between Sarah and Handful: one living a life of privilege, the other suffering the life of a slave, but both wanting so much more. Sarah wants to do things (like going to college and becoming a lawyer) that women were barred from in that day; Handful grows more and more unwilling to accept a life of slavery. Sarah is an adamant abolitionist, and teaches Handful to read and allows her some small freedoms, but in an oddly self-righteous move, gives Handful back to Sarah's parents, even though her mother is especially harsh to slaves, because she "doesn't want to own a slave." (Apparently freeing a slave in this time and place was not an easy thing to do.)

I was almost halfway through The Invention of Wings before I looked at the back of the book (I may or may not have been peeking at the ending) and saw the afterword by the author, explaining the factual basis for this novel, and realized that Sarah Grimke was a real person. Sue Monk Kidd does play a little fast and loose with the facts - for example, she invents a stammer for Sarah based on the fact that she was known to have difficulties speaking in public, and the actual slave Hetty died as a young girl - but Kidd doesn't try to present this as a biography, and I did appreciate that she explained at some length in the afterword what was and was not historical fact.

Casting this as a fictional work also allowed Kidd the freedom to create a truly memorable character in Handful. In one memorable scene, Handful and her mother sneak into the library to find the records where their owners assigned all of their assets a dollar value, including their slaves, so they could see what it would take to buy their freedom:
Goods and chattel... We were like the gold leaf mirror and the horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I didn't believe this, never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough, some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder...

When mauma saw my raw eyes, she said, "Ain't nobody can write down in a book what you worth."
Handful and her mother are skilled seamstresses, and one of the recurring themes in the book is the quilt her mother creates, telling the story of her life, the terrible experiences as well as the good ones.

An actual slave quilt.

Another theme is the metaphorical wings that both Sarah and Handful develop, as they both experience hardships and loss in their lives and grow through their experiences. Though Sarah's life was immeasurably more privileged than Handful's, she had to navigate major personal trials, including loss of her dreams and love, and deep anger from her family and from society in general over her abolitionist beliefs sorrow, as she grows into the strong woman she eventually becomes. Sarah is a bit of a frustrating character to read about. She's almost paralyzed at times by her fears and uncertainties, but she overcame so much in her life, and was a major influence in her much younger sister Angelina's life, who also became devoted to the abolitionist cause.

I truly appreciated learning more about this early pioneer of both women's rights and abolitionism, as well as learning more about the many large and small cruelties suffered by slaves in this time.
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews654 followers
July 24, 2017
This is a book whose topic is one which makes me feel supremely uncomfortable; slavery. Usually, I avoid books like this, they make me feel wretched and sad; tethered as I am here in 2014 and utterly powerless to change history. Before this novel, I knew nothing of Sarah Grimke and her sister Nina and I'm grateful to Sue Monk Kidd for enlightening me.

Sarah Grimke was the eighth child of fourteen children, Nina the twelfth, their father was a plantation owner but the family lived in Charleston and had urban slaves. Sarah's own personal rebellion against slavery began at age 11 when she refused the gift from her parents' of her own slave, Handful. Her parents heard her then but it would take until she was 43 for America to hear this woman's voice. Sarah had a few things against her in her fight against slavery; she was a woman, she was from the south, her family had slaves and she stuttered; none of this helped her in her campaign but she was undeterred and quietly then un-quietly pursued her life's work to help abolish slavery began. The Invention of Wings is the story of Sarah and Handful, two women bound together by a culture they both abhorred, over the course of some 35 years.

Sarah's next insurrection was to teach Handful to read; this was a fairly risky endeavour for a white teenage Southern girl. It was actually against the law: the feeling was that if slaves could read, that would give them knowledge which could lead to power and then an uprising. The punishment for this crime was harsh. But Sarah wasn't deterred, she taught Handful the alphabet and within a few months, the young girl knew over 100 words. Part of the beauty of this novel is the quilting done by Charlotte, Handful's mother. Charlotte is the Grimke's seamstress but spends her nights sewing quilts which include story quilts. She tells her own family's story through one special quilt which ensures that Handful remains hopeful when Charlotte disappears. Charlotte had taught Handful to sew and quilt and these skills mark Handful as a important member of the Grimke household and ensure that she never gets sold off as often happens.

A slave's song

Bread done broken
let my Jesus go
Feet be tired
let my Jesus go
Back be aching
let my Jesus go
Teeth done fell out
let my Jesus go
Rump be dragging
let my Jesus go

This is not the first novel which alludes to people once having had wings, now obsolete but their framework still existing. The function of shoulder blades is to provide the foundation for proper shoulder joint function and shoulder health. Handful's people believed that they are the nubs of their ancestor's wings, wings used to carry them freely across the skies. Hence, the title The Invention of Wings and in the book, the slaves most surely would have mourned the loss of their ability to fly. But I digress...

Mary Grimke, Sarah's mother was known, factually, to be a severe and un-maternal woman. She was also known to be especially harsh to her slave household; she would think nothing of beating a slave over the head, back or arms with her silver-topped cane. She would order the butler to whip a slave in the kitchen yard or order a slave be sent to the Workhouse where punishments were renown to be cruel.

This had me astounded: “By law, a slave was 3/5 of a person.”

and this; a Lost ad in the Charleston paper reads like a lost dog advert we would place:

“answers to the name of Charlotte... belongs to Judge John Grimke.”
belongs? belongs? Not one bit of my 2014 brain can process that!

Two images which will long stay with me: Handful's mother having her front teeth knocked out with a hammer so that her new massa Mistah Willcox might identify her next time she ran away. And Handful's sister Sky “ended up with the iron muzzle latched on her mouth... It took four men to hold Sky down, work the metal prongs inside her mouth and clamp the contraption at the back of her head. Sky couldn't eat or talk for two days. She slept sitting up so the iron wouldn't cut her face, and when she woke groaning, I worked a wet rag under the edge of the gag so she could suck water." The iron muzzle existed and was often used as a punishment by slave owners.

Sarah and Handful's story contains an absolute plethora of real-life people. . Demark Vesey, Lucretia Mott, Theodore Weld, Sarah Mapps Douglas, Israel Morris, William Lloyd Garrison and many others mentioned in the story all existed and were primary in the abolition movement. You will know these names if you know your American history.

Sarah defied convention, her family's religion, became a Quaker and twice refused marriage to Israel Morris, a man she loved, owing to the conscience to which she adhered. She left Charleston, settled in Pennsylvania, studied the Quaker religion with hopes of becoming a minister. Her beloved god-daughter and sister, Nina (Angelina) joined her and together they became well known as orators, essay writers and theoreticians. Sarah published the daring “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes” in 1837 as part of her role as a suffragist. She also published her translation of “Lamartine's biography of Joan of Arc, a woman she greatly admired.

Being Australian, I guess I was feeling pretty blameless about the whole slavery culture. After all, Australia never had slaves, did they? But... but wait, we did, we had the 'kanaka' used in the sugar plantations in the 1800s. In Australia, South Sea Islanders 'Kanakas' were often un-free labor, of the specific form known as indentured labor. BUT it is often alleged that their employment in Australia was a form of slavery, due to the belief that many people were recruited by "blackbirding", as the enslavement of Pacific Islanders and indigenous Australians was known at the time. So, my own national history is tarnished by this scourge.

The Invention of Wings is a powerful read; one cannot help but feel sympathy for both Sarah and Handful. But, you know, I think neither woman would have wanted your sympathy, they were proud and strong and their story is a sometimes harsh, but ultimately uplifting one. And for the slaves sake, thank god, Sarah's story is true. You cannot fault Sue Monk Kidd's writing, she very adeptly speaks with both Sarah and Handful's voice. The pictures she paints are vivid, compelling and haunting; this is not a novel I will easily forget. I strongly recommend you read this powerful novel. Definitely 5★
Profile Image for Mandy.
320 reviews321 followers
February 15, 2016
Unforgettable. This book was completely and utterly dynamic. From the first word to the last I was enthralled with Sarah and Handful. From the beginning they had a bond that couldn't be bought or broken. Sarah promised Handful's mama she would free her and she did in so many ways. What a beautiful book, it has definitely opened up new doors for me in what I am choosing to read. The Invention of Wings was so powerful that it even made me rethink my opinions on slavery and how awful and degrading it truly was. 5 stars! Read this book! Side note - would love to see this as a movie :)
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
August 4, 2014
3.5 Stars

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd was a really interesting and well researched novel about the lives of the Grimke Sisters.
Firstly I have to applaud the author for including a detailed Author's Note at the end of this beautiful novel and updating the readers on what is in fact fiction and what events really happened in the lives of the Grimke Sisters. I feel this is so important in historical fiction which is inspired by real events.

I have read a good few books dealing with slavery in the American Deep South in the Nineteenth Century and I am still shocked and saddened by what took place and yet I feel I lean something new from each novel that I read. That is probably why I love Historical fiction.

The Invention of Wings is very well written in that it is powerful, sad and yet in places the humour comes through which makes the book uplifting and not depressing.

I loved the character of Charlotte and I loved her spirit for life which was portrayed so well in the book. I also enjoyed learning about the Grimke Sisters and am so glad I read this book.

A very interesting and satisfying read and I can see why Book Clubs are loving it.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,217 followers
May 8, 2018

The invention of wings is a fictional recreation of the life of Sarah Grimké, one of the first American feminists and abolitionist who spent her prime years touring the United States giving speeches in favor of equality in gender and race.
Born into an aristocratic family of the South and raised up in the culture of pro-slavery, she became an unusual woman who defied not only his family but also public opinion, societal norms and general belief and faced ostracism and permanent banishment because of her “radical” ideas.
Unmarried, unusually cultured and plain in appearance, Sarah had to overcome her own disregard and fight against her own prejudices and fears with all her might to meet her fate and defend equal justice and equal value for those who were not white, not native-born or not male.

Sue Monk Kidd rebuilds Sarah’s story blending factual happenings with invented aspects of Sarah’s life and personality, bestowing upon her the prominence that history refused her. The story starts with an eleven year old Sarah who is given a colored maid called Hetty as a birthday present. Even at such a tender age, Sarah energetically rejects the notion of owning another human being and a rarified but solid friendship emerges between the two girls, a friendship that will define the kind of prisons, mental and physical, both women have to endure until they gather enough valor to unfold the wings that will set them free, a theme that overlaps with Morrison’s “The Song of Solomon”.

Alternating short chapters with the voices of Sarah and Hetty, nicknamed Handful by her spirited mother, a double account of the same story is tightly woven, providing an evolving frame of the horrors of slavery and the intellectual arguments in its favor that feed on extreme violence based on values, privileges and attitudes built into the culture of the time.

The invention of wings is a highly readable novel, well-written, with many memorable characters and the atmospheric pull of page-turners that don’t sacrifice depth in favor of overdramatizing the harrowing events that befall on the protagonists of the story. It’s the perfect book that will keep you entertained at first and truly engaged and invested when you reluctantly read the last line.
You did it again Mrs. Kidd, with elegance and great care; you gave wings to your characters so they could soar cloud high. And what a sight!
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews659 followers
December 8, 2016
A new trend over the years is to take a small piece of history and create a story around it. I enjoy this concept, especially when it is done well. This time, was no exception. I have wanted to read this for years and always pushed it to the bottom of the pile. I finally decided to pick this up just for the audio. One of the narrators is one that I really enjoy and when I saw she was narrating this one, I moved it to the top of my list.

The story is told from two points of view, alternating between each. One is Sarah Grimke, a daughter of a prominent judge in Charleston, SC. The other, is Hetty “Handful” Grimke, the slave girl that Sarah is given on her 11th birthday. Both stories are told very well and both are very intriguing. The book takes piece of history and weaves a story. Sarah Grime was an American abolitionist, writer, and member of the women's suffrage movement. She along with her sister, Angelina or Nina, knew they were destined for more and wanted to do what they could to free the slaves. Each of them becoming Quakers and eventually speaking on the abolitionist lecture circuit, and were among the first women to speak in public on political issues. Naturally this did not go over well with many, including slave owners, the Quakers, and especially the people of Charleston. Handful's story tells about her life growing up being a slave and her "friendship" with Sarah. You learn about Handful, her mother, and eventually her sister. Handful is a strong willed girl who pushes the limit, just like her mother.

I have read a few stories about this time in our history, but with each new book, I learn something new. I liked the fact that this story was based on the Grimke sisters. The stories about the slaves were just heartbreaking. The audio had two narrators - one for Sarah and one for Handful. They both did a fabulous job and I can't say enough about this audio. I'm glad I finally read/listened to this one. To be honest, I wanted to hear more about both of these characters, Sarah and Handful.
Profile Image for Jenny.
269 reviews96 followers
July 28, 2018
I read this book for book club a couple of years ago but didn’t realize the impact this book had on me until I started recommending it recently as a book that gives readers a glimpse into two very different childhoods. One child is a slave and one child is a child of privilege. I realize that as I get older how many people I talk to don’t know US history. More importantly, people don’t have any comprehension of slavery or the impact that it had. I think this book is excellent in the way you see the same story from two different lives. My short review doesn’t do justice to this book but it is worth reading and adding to peoples book clubs. I hope that people will use this book to start discussions and conversations.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews28 followers
September 6, 2014
This book is as good as people say it is! Page-turning engrossing! Vibrantly imagined! Pulsing with life...(devastating torture, tender humanity, and an extraordinary achievement in storytelling)

I'm giving it 5 Stars ---(4.5 stars for sure)!!!!!

Given there must be at least 5,000 reviews of this book already ---I'm going to pick out a quote (page 115), in which I felt this story took a major turn. A 'powerful' turn':

"She had the look of someone who'd declared herself, and seeing it, my indignation collapsed and her mutinous bath turned into something else entirely. She'd immersed herself in forbidden privileges, yes, but mostly in the belief she was worthy of those privileges. What she'd done was not a revolt, it was a baptism."

Wonderful novel!

Note: I had been resisting reading this book ---(thinking I had read one too many books on this topic) ---I was WRONG! The girls growing up during this period of history are especially very rich in quality.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
July 19, 2019
“Their laughter would ring out abruptly, a sound Mother welcomed. ‘Our slaves are happy,’ she would boast. It never occurred to her their gaiety wasn’t contentment, but survival.”

Based on the true story of two sisters who grew up to become prominent abolitionists in the American South in the early 1800s. Sarah, the elder of the two, narrates some chapters while Handful, the slave who was given to her on her 11th birthday, narrates the others. I preferred the fictional Handful’s story to the ‘real’ one.

“She was puny in the extreme, a year younger than I, but she looked all of six years old. Her limbs were stick and bone. Her elbows, the curves of two fastening pins. The only thing of any size about her was her eyes, which were colored a strange shade of gold and floated above her black cheeks like shiny half-moons.”

Mother can’t imagine any other life, while Father is an abolitionist at heart but couldn’t run the plantation without slaves. Nor would he ever admit his sympathies because he would be cut dead by friends and business associates. So he kept a ledger, as all good farms do, with all assets listed in on column and their value in another. Slaves, too.

I liked that traditions and some language and songs were kept from the countries from which the slaves were stolen.

“Missus didn’t have Christmas that year, but she said go ahead and have Jonkonnu if you want to. That was a custom that got started a few years back brought by the Jamaica slaves. Tomfry would dress up in a shirt and pants tattered with strips of bright cloth sewed on, and a stove pipe hat on his head—what we called the Ragman.”

Mauma, Handful’s mother, is a spirited, rebellious woman, proud of her Fon heritage and keen to tell and save her story in her quilting. She is the plantation seamstress and makes almost all the clothes for the families and the slaves. She is stubborn and difficult but also indispensable and knows it.

“ That was the way mauma had lived her whole life. She used to say, you got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”

She has been sewing a quilt that includes small black triangles to represent the blackbirds who were flying away in Africa, and she has pictures of her grandmother and mother, and her history.

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, ‘Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.’

That’s the story she’s telling I her quilt. There are beatings and whippings and chains and blood and pain. There is nothing quaint and picturesque about slavery. When Mauma suffers something trouble later, she won’t talk about it.

“She was picking up with the rest of-her story. She wouldn’t say what happened to her with words. She would tell it in the cloth.”

The story takes place from 1803-1838, and I think the author has capture the feeling of the times well. Both women, Sarah and Handful, are relating what happened from their points of view – radically different, of course. At one point, Handful is shocked to discover a free black man who owns three slaves.

We haven’t really progressed much as people, I fear. Slavery is still here, just a little less overt, and the darker the skin, the more oppressed a person is likely to be, whether or not the rest of their family is the same colour. For an interesting take on colour, I can recommend Anita Heiss’s memoir Am I Black Enough For You?. She's an Australian Wiradjuri woman who was accused of not 'really' being Aboriginal. (I reviewed it here if you're interested. Or not. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... )

I was also reminded of a short story I read last year by Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple. The story, Everyday Use, is about the descendants of a family like Handful’s and their quilts. Here’s my review, which includes a link to the story online.
Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
May 18, 2016
2.5 stars - It was alright, an average book.

While being well written and interesting enough to keep me engaged, this book was ultimately a let down and did not even come close to meeting the expectations that have been set by the hype surrounding it.

I love historical fiction that is based on actual figures/events and was excited to read about the Grimke sisters, the first female abolition agents and among the earliest major American feminist thinkers. Unfortunately, the focus on their actions to end slavery and promote women's rights was a scant 10-15% of this book. In actually, this is a rehashing of the evils of slavery and while the author illustrates the cruelty and unfathomable injustice that slaves endured, she does not bring anything new to the table. In the end, this was a fictional, heart-tugging story, but still a very typical book about slavery with no significantly unique qualities about it. In reality, Hetty actually died as a child shortly after being punished for learning how to read so her story is almost entirely the creative imaginings of the author. The book would have been far more enlightening and original had the author focused on the Grimke sisters, the difficulties of the time with promoting equality for all, and factual events vs 1/2 the novel being about a cliched, archetypal character.

This read as a stereotypical novel that illustrates the cruel capability of mankind, but ultimately leaves you wanting more from the rushed and poorly developed segments that gave you a glimmer of hope regarding humanity. The most interesting part of the book was actually the author's note, which goes into more detail about the sisters and what was factual from the novel. From the author's note: "I've abridged and consolidated events in the sisters' public crusade that took place from December 1836 to May 1838, offering only a telescoped look at the attacks, censure, hostility, and violence they encountered for speaking out as they did." What a pity, because that would have actually made for a unique and innovative story.

There was especially very little said about the Grimke's campaign for women's rights. The beginning of the book in particular illustrated Sarah's struggle with realizing the limited options she would have as a woman. It was dissatisfying after that build-up to see very little development come later due to the author offering "only a telescoped look" of the push back Sarah received as an adult.

"The truth," she said, "is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse."

Favorite Quote: I have one mind for the master to see. I have another mind for what I know is me.

First Sentence: There was a time in Africa the people could fly.
Profile Image for Damaskcat.
1,782 reviews4 followers
December 28, 2013
I had heard so many good things about Sue Monk Kidd that I thought I’d give her latest novel a try. Unfortunately I was a little disappointed with it. Basically it is a fairly run of the mill story about two girls of a similar age in the nineteenth century who grow up in different social settings – one a slave and one her owner.

Yes the story is interesting and the contrasts it paints between the different social strata of society in nineteenth century Charleston is well done. However I didn’t think it was any better written than any other novel of this type.

Unfortunately my (proof) copy of the novel was defective with missing sections and others bound in the wrong order making it impossible to read from beginning to end and this may well have affected my enjoyment of it. However I was able to read enough of it to form an opinion of the book and that opinion is that it is no more than an average read.
Profile Image for Cherie.
193 reviews76 followers
June 24, 2020
Amazing! This is the best book I have read in a long time, certainly the best I have read this year. This is moving to my "Favorites" shelf. I can't recommend highly enough, a "Must-Read" for all females.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
September 18, 2016
What a great read. Once again, I will skip a long review and just mention that it was a well-researched, creative novel based on the true life story of two sisters who became the first outspoken anti-slavery advocates from Georgia and paid a hefty price for it. In the end they succeeded and changed the world for women in America as well in the early 1800s. All they asked was that men should step off their necks. A great expression to remember. But it needs to be said that it was men who inspired and supported them to go national and be winners in their own way.

The story about a friendship between a young girl and her slave, was touching, often heartbreaking, and real in a fictional way.

The conditions which slaves often had to endure was shocking. The sad part for me is that slavery is still continuing in other parts of the world today in even more shocking conditions, and nothing is said or done about it. I am proud of the American people for changing the lives of so many thousands of people when they abolished it. It was a bitter and sad time in history. So many people had to die.

The excellent way this story was written commemorates this part of history in such a way that many new generations of readers will get to learn about it. It is a story that has been told a million times before. The danger in that is that people disconnect, become apathetic, due to an overload. The over-exploitation element. It is like a popular song being killed by too many times being played on the radio.

The southern charm of the prose makes this a very good as well as informative read. The author presents a warm, compassionate, picturesque story of a friendship that survived all the odds.

Well done!

Profile Image for Lazaros.
271 reviews524 followers
March 12, 2015
“She said it again, "I'm tired."
She wanted me to tell her it was all right, to get her spirit and go on, but I couldn't say it. I told her, "Course you're tired. You worked hard your whole life. That's all you did was work."
"Don't you remember me for that. Don't you remember I'm a slave and work hard. When you think of me, you say, she never belong to those people. She never belong to nobody but herself."
She closed her eyes. "You remember that."
"I will, mauma.”

When Sarah Grimké turned 11 her mother gave her first, very own slave. Hetty Handful Grimké was just one year younger than Sarah and now she's to wait outside of her bedroom at all times and follow her around in order to be at the ready in case Sarah wants something.

Sarah is unlike from all the other Grimké kids and most importantly, her parents. Even at the age of 11 she can tell that slavery, owning somebody as if they were a thing, is wrong and she's not happy to 'receive' Handful as a birthday present and despite her attempts to say no, her mother is adamant.

Handful and her mother are both owned by the Grimkés. They've only ever known pain and hurt. They're not allowed to leave, they're not allowed to do anything without permission, without being told to. They are objects to those people. I'm pretty sure most of you know what slavery means and why it's so wrong, or at least, know that black people back then were literally things, owned, humiliated, hurt and controlled by their owners.

We can see as Sarah grows that she and Handful while they consider each other friends, they grow apart from each other, not in the sense of hostility but they just do. But Sarah never once forgets the promise she made to Charlotte, that she'd one day get Handful freed.

Sarah and her younger sister, Nina, they're both against her parents and siblings views and they are not afraid or ashamed to say so. Sarah, later, embraces Quakerism and their views of the emancipation of the slaves and so does her younger sister. As they grew older, they began writing pamphlets and they became widely known and largely controversial for not only their feelings towards slavely but also towards the fact that they advocate the equality of women.

So, this book is not only about slavery, it's about the emancipation of both women and the slaves. As Handful once said to Sarah: "My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it's the other way around.". Sarah managed to make something of herself at last and she found something she's good at and something she can take pride in doing. In this book you'll see the hardship the slaves were put under and the wretched conditions they had to live through. But also you'll see the disease of opression, of being told what you should believe, of being told that you're no good for anything and being afraid of standing up to those who doubt you and of the inability of doing anything other than what was considered normal and typical of a person to do. You could not breakaway, could not make something, whatever that was, of yourself without taking and being granted permission to do so.

Mrs. Kidd took something real, something existent, the lives of Sarah & Nina Grimké, and put her own fictional details and molded a story so true and so real that it feels like reading a biography. She's an incredible author, with the power to make you understand what slavery is, not only the slavery of the body but also that of the mind, the one we sometimes inflict on ourselves.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,469 followers
January 10, 2020
I KNOW my emotional response to this book. I liked it, so three stars it has to get. But why? What is it that has prevented me from giving it more?

Please read the above book summary. I am not going to repeat all of that. I assume you know that this book is based on the two real-life Grimke sisters that fought for the Abolitionist and Women's Rights movement in the 1830s and 1840s.

The book is well researched. It has an excellent epilogue that in detail specifies what is and is not fictional. Many of the characters really did exist and they are woven into the fictional events. It is the fictional story that gives me trouble. In reality Sarah Grimke was given a personal slave when she was eleven, Hetty (of ten years), but this slave soon died. Here she lives on and is used by the author to show us the horrors of slave life in Charleston, South Carolina. It is this fictional story that doesn't ring true to me. There are cups of tea on roof tops, things like that, which create a feel good story that people so love...... but which didn't work for me.

And I will not talk of the ending; how realistic is that?

The theme of slave quilting is pretty too. Too pretty? Too sweet? Is it a gimmick to tie the story together?

Slavery is bad. Of course, but there is no discussion of why so many people refused to abandon it. Nothing of the economic basis for slavery in the South is discussed. Am I too much of a non-fiction book lover for this? Should I give up on historical fiction completely?

The narration by Jenna Lamia who voices Sarah's story and Adepero Oduye who speaks Hetty's, the slave girl's story, are distinct. I like how each uses their own appropriate vocabularies. Sarah is genteel, clearly from the upper crust, the slave owning class; her speech and choice of words well reflect this. Hetty's is exactly as expected, that of a slave's, with a diction that matches. Each uses a language that seems genuine. BUT at the end of the novel, when both are middle-aged woman, they still sound like teenagers. This, along with the author's feel good touch, had me thinking this was more a young adult novel than a serious one for adults.
Profile Image for Nicole.
732 reviews1,838 followers
August 26, 2021
I enjoyed this more than the Life of Bees but I sadly couldn’t connect with the characters in this book either. Kidd is s good author but I doubt I’ll read more of her books for a while now.

The book was sadly not memorable and I don't have much to say about it, so I will be skipping writing a review for this one especially since several months passed and I barely remember anything about it (I was very busy and didn’t have time to review several books. I’m trying to review every book I read this year but I’ll be skipping this one I suppose).

As for the audio’s narration, it was good, this format is recommended.
Profile Image for Katelyn.
22 reviews21 followers
January 17, 2014
First off, before I get into the actual review, I think it's necessary to explain my history with the author, Sue Monk Kidd. When I was fourteen, I received a book recommendation from one of my mom's friends, which ended up being The Secret Life of Bees. I was just at that age where books didn't fascinate me as much as when I was a little kid, and my book selection was getting increasingly pickier. As I was reading the book coming home from a trip to Mexico, I felt an overwhelming connection to every single character. Keep in mind, I had never lived in South Carolina, let alone been to the Deep South. Maybe it was that Lily was the same age I was at the time, and going through similar changes becoming a girl to a woman. I also found too many similarities with the character May and my grandmother, and still get emotional just thinking about her. The Secret Life of Bees is the first book that made me sob profusely, and to this date I am still very emotionally attached to the book. I still have the original copy many years later, and I am so protective of my copy that not even my closest, dearest friends can borrow it. I would much rather buy such friends a brand new copy than let anyone touch mine. It's too sacred.

I never got around to reading Sue's other books, The Mermaid Chair and Traveling with Pomegranates, mostly for the reason that nothing will ever beat The Secret Life of Bees. Plus, I had read reviews for both and neither came close to the praise The Secret Life of Bees accomplished.

About a week ago, when I was researching books to do for my challenge, I came across an add on Goodreads for The Invention of Wings. The book had only been printed for a couple of days, and had already been noticed by Oprah Winfrey and her Book Club 2.0. Reviews were coming in left and right praising Sue Monk Kidd and her incredible accomplishment. Cautious, I marked it as "to-read".

Right before my surgery on Tuesday, I was aimlessly walking around the Duck Store (the campus bookstore) and there it was. Just released. Brand new, in mint condition. Something pulled me toward the book, even though it cost a little bit under a week's paycheck.

Sue Monk Kidd did not disappoint my expectations; if anything she exceeded them by flying colors. Based on the true story of abolitionist Sarah Grimke and her slave "Handful", the novel goes back and forth between the two women in the early nineteenth century. The first chapters start when both girls are 11 years old, with Handful being assigned as Sarah's personal slave, which even at the age of 11 Sarah knows is wrong. As the girls grow up to lead very different lives, both endure loss, love (or, supposed love in Sarah's case), life, and death.

I had never heard about Sarah Grimke prior to the novel, and I wish that schools put as much emphasis into her history not only as an abolitionist, but as a feminist. Between Sarah and her sister Nina, the two started to pave the way for women's suffrage. I also really appreciate having Handful become as important in the novel as Sarah was, even though more people know about the true Sarah Grimke's life true life than the real Handful.

While I didn't fall in love with the characters as much as I did in Secret Life of Bees, both of the leading characters are instant winners and deserve to be celebrated in the ingenious way Sue Monk Kidd portrays them.

I have a feeling this novel is going to be eaten up by OWN TV in a matter of years, as the book is just screaming to be a historical feature film. The events are exciting enough to be brought to life by a camera, and Sarah Grimke and all associated deserve to be important facets of American history.

4.5/5, without a doubt in my mind. Well done, Sue Monk Kidd. You impressed me yet again.
Profile Image for Sarah.
72 reviews10 followers
November 15, 2013
At the age of 11, I owned a slave I couldn't free.

This is a book primarily about two girls, both of who are trapped within lives that they cannot change, but who ultimately grow into extraordinary and inspirational women.

The novel begins in 1803. Sarah Grimke is the daughter of Judge Grimke, and a middle child in a large family who form part of the aristocratic class of Charleston, South Carolina. The Grimkes, like all other rich white families in the town, rely on slaves to sustain their lavish lifestyle. Each family member has their own slave who attends to their needs, and therefore at the age of 11, and despite her young conviction that it is wrong, Sarah finds herself in possession of a young slave girl, Hetty "Handful".

As Sarah grows into a young woman, and then into middle age, her convictions about slavery and rights for women never dim, often to great personal sacrifice. She is by no means a perfect character - her younger sister Nina seems closer to this - but it makes her even more interesting to read about.

Handful is one of my favourite characters that I have come across lately. Through her, we feel keenly the injustices and cruelties dealt to the slaves in Charleston. Her relationship with her mother, Charlotte, is colourfully depicted and touching.

The stories of Sarah and Handful are equally compelling. Having their lives side-by-side in the novel, even when they are separated in distance, is an effective method of contrasting and comparing their circumstances.

If you must err, do so on the side of audacity

This phrase is one that Sarah applies to her life from a young age, but could just as well apply to Handful too. Both are very likeable characters, who you root for throughout. The use of first person means their deepest dreams and thoughts are exposed to the reader. The emotions are raw and almost painful to read at times. The fact that these sort of things actually happened makes it all the more horrendous.

The friendship between Sarah and Handful is never romanticised; it is always painfully aware of the distance between them that has been imposed by society. It is all the more compelling and touching for it. The bond between the women feels realistic throughout the book and is palpable throughout their various individual struggles.

Whilst reading this book, I was unaware that it was based in fact, and the discovery of this through the author's note at the end has deepened its impression on me even further. This is a book that speaks to your very soul, and which I feel will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,643 reviews598 followers
December 6, 2013
This powerful novel begins in 1803 and follows the life of two girls into womanhood; neither of whom follow the path proscribed for them by convention and the world they are born into. Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a wealthy and influential family. Her father is a judge on South Carolina’s highest court, her snobbish, overbearing and constantly pregnant mother, Mary, descended from the first families of Charleston. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is presented with Handful, the slave daughter of Charlotte, as her very own waiting maid – a gift she is unwilling to accept but unable to refuse. For Sarah is not the average, dutiful daughter. She is desperate for more than the basic education doled out to girls, in order to make them good wives and mothers; being taught piano, drawing and needlepoint. She plunders her father’s forbidden library and longs to escape the constraints of the society she lives in.

In a sense, both Sarah and Handful are prisoners of their situation. Sarah bound by duty and convention, her ambitions thwarted and her desires limited. Handful, obviously, is in the most dreadful position – having no control over her own life, she can be literally bought and sold, given away as a gift and her world is bound by her owners. Her mother, Charlotte, is desperate to escape and plots and plans to buy the freedom of her and her daughter. Meanwhile, Sarah rebels in her own ways and teaches Handful to read; illegal in slave owning states.

Based on the life of real people, this novel follows the story of Sarah, her sister Nina, Charlotte and Handful. There is much disappointment, pain and tragedy, as both Sarah and Handful struggle to take control of their world. The author makes sure you are always aware that, no matter what befalls Sarah, she, at least, has some control over her destiny. Yet, it is the strength of these women, their courage and conviction, that is your overwhelming feeling at the end of this striking and rewarding read. Sarah Grimke was a woman who recognised her failings and weaknesses, but her work as a female abolitionist and her writing as an early feminist is something which should be admired and known. In this novel, the author gives both Sarah and Handful believable and courageous voices.
This book was provided by the publisher for review.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,108 reviews2,666 followers
August 7, 2016
Firstly let me apologise for the length of this review!

It was the 1780s in Charleston, South Carolina when the day of Sarah Grimke’s eleventh birthday was to become the day of change in young Sarah’s life, though she was unaware of it at the time. For her birthday her parents gifted her with ten year old Hetty (Handful) to be her waiting maid. Sarah was horrified; she tried to give her back – she didn’t need a maid she said. But it was to be. And so a strange and unique relationship formed between mistress and slave – but Sarah’s ownership wouldn’t stop the cruel and vicious life that being a slave meant to Handful.

Handful was the daughter of Charlotte who had been with the Grimke family for a long time. Charlotte was an excellent seamstress and was teaching Handful all she knew. She was also teaching her of her history; their life from Africa to slavery; the life of Handful’s grand-mauma and the spirit tree, down to Handful herself. Charlotte had a mind of her own which would get her into trouble on many occasions; Handful was very like her mauma…

When Sarah was twelve, her younger sister Angelina (Nina) was born. Sarah begged her mother to allow her to be Nina’s godmother; the reluctant agreement was tinged with aggression but Sarah was happy. Sarah and Nina had a number of siblings – including Mary who was as mean as their mother of the same name and Thomas who was Sarah’s favourite brother; then there was their well-known father, John Grimke. Sarah’s ambitions were huge, but she was stopped at everything she attempted – women were to marry and have children; nothing else. And never, ever challenge a man.

As change, aggression, cruelty and rumblings of discontent hovered, the Grimke family was involved, from slave through to owner. Handful suffered greatly, enduring much; but she had a grim determination which kept her going. On the outside she was the perfect slave – yessum, yessum – but on the inside she was something else entirely.

While the years passed, Sarah and Nina’s lives were forever entwined; they were determined to make a difference – but at what cost?

What an amazing book The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd turned out to be! And what a devastating and terrible history for Charleston and America to have. Based on fact the majority of the characters in this book are real people – Sarah and Angelina Grimke are historical figures of note, being the first women to strike out and be heard in the fight for the abolition of slavery, and the rights of women. The final pages of the book explain the author’s research into Sarah and Angelina; the other historical figures who were there in this horrible time in history, plus the people she fictionalised.

I had heard of this book from reviews of friends, but I hadn’t thought to read it. I’ve not read anything by this author before. But I’m incredibly grateful to have read The Invention of Wings and would like to highly recommend it to anyone interested in history and what shaped our future.
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