Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: January 7, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "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."

My Two Cents:

You all know that I love historical fiction but I don't seem to get a chance to read a lot of historical fiction set in America. It just doesn't seem as prevalent as historical fiction set in far off places like Europe or elsewhere. It's books like "The Invention of Wings" that make me think that it is a travesty that there is not more historical fiction set in the United States. This was a great read set in the early to mid-1800s, a very difficult time period in America's history when it came to slavery. Historical fiction lovers will find a lot to enjoy within this book!

Before reading this book, I had never heard of the Grimke sisters before. What is so amazing about Sarah (one of the narrators in this book) and her sister, Nina, is that they were both from a slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina. Both women became abolitionists, even though it meant pushing away their family to a great degree. They are fascinating as this book shows and it is a shame that they are not more well known. In this book, we get an intimate glimpse at the various struggles that both sisters, especially Sarah go through. Sarah realizes from a very early age that some of the rules when it came to slavery were meant to be broken. One of her first acts of resistance against what she sees as unfair treatment is to teach Hetty, one of the family slaves, how to read. This was incredibly dangerous for both Sarah and Hetty as slaves were not supposed to read at all (being someone who loves to read, it was so hard for me to read about how slaves were pretty much not supposed to be educated whatsoever). I loved seeing how all of the experiences that Sarah had as a young person shaped her into the woman that she would become.

The other part of the book was narrated by Hetty, also called Handful, who is one of the Grimke family's slaves. Hetty wants so much for herself and I loved reading about her. Her counterpoint in the book gives us a good glimpse at what slaves had to deal with in the South during this time period. Some of the information is difficult to read but it definitely made me appreciated how far this country has come. Hetty also gives us a good counterpoint to Sarah's experience.

The writing is really good and definitely compelling. I really enjoyed Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair before this and enjoyed them. Kidd definitely has a way of creating characters that feel really real and make you really care about what happens to them. I am going to be thinking about Hetty and Sarah for a long time. I definitely enjoyed this story and look forward to Kidd's next release!



  1. This one has been on my TBR list for a while. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  2. I read this, too. For me, it got off to a bad start. Although this is a story that involves two historical characters, sisters who were abolitionists and who also spoke up about women's rights, the author chose to devote half of the book to the childhoods of one of the sisters and her slave.Many readers don't realize that the slave is fiction. The book didn't grab me the way books should until its second part. Many of the other characters in the second half really did exist.

    The author wrote an interesting Afterward in which she explains what is fact and what is fiction.

    1. I didn't mind that Hetty was a totally fictional character. I liked that Hetty acted as a really interesting comparison to Sarah. I love, love, love author's notes and found the one in this book to shed a lot of light on the various choices that the author made in the book. I loved getting that insight!!!

  3. I hadn't heard of the Grimke sisters either, before reading this book. I was enthralled by the story, even more so knowing that they had really lived, that these experiences (or facsimiles of this story) were true. WOW. powerful stuff.

    1. I love historical fiction even when the characters are totally fictional but I did think that the fact that the Grimke sisters really lived made this book very special!


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