Review | The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

the-invention-of-wings-sue-monk-kidd_t580On Sarah Grimke’s eleventh birthday, she is given ownership of a ten-year-old slave named Hetty as a gift from her mother. Sarah, horrified from an early age with the treatment of slaves by her own mother is troubled by the ‘gift’ and promptly tries to free Hetty. Though unsuccessful in her first attempt to free Hetty, Sarah treats the negro girl as more of a friend and companion than as her handmaid.

The Invention of Wings follows the lives of Hetty and Sarah through their childhood and into adulthood. The narration switches between the two characters as they tell about their individual journeys as well as the ways in which their lives intertwine.

The author, Sue Monk Kidd patterned her story after true events. At the end of the audio version of the book, she explains how closely she tried to follow Sarah Grimke’s real life story, as well as the ways in which she deviated from what really happened.

I really enjoyed this book. It took me a few pages to become invested, but once I was, I breezed through the story. I felt inspired by Sarah Grimke’s character and her longing to be educated and able to have a voice in her community. I had not realized that abolition and women’s rights coincided so closely and how the two issues affected one another.

I have read a few different books where quilting or quilts have played a role in moving the story line along, but have never really been impressed with how it was done. This was not the case in The Invention of Wings. I felt the quilt-making had a legitimate place in the story and enhanced it. The information about historical quilting was quite accurate.

In February of this year, I went to QuiltCon in Austin, Texas. The Gee’s Bend Quilters were the keynote speakers, taught classes, and some of their quilts were on display. I also recently read the Newbery Honor Book, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is about Woodson’s experience growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement. Both of these influences made the story in The Invention of Wings all the more beautiful and meaningful to me.

I listened to the audio version of The Invention of Wings, it was fantastic.


Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: a man and woman have sex-very mild description, a mild discussion about a slave owner trying to have sex with a slave
  • Violence: slaves are whipped and punished in terrible ways, a man is hung
  • Language: mild

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The Invention of Wings Book Cover The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
Viking
January 7, 2014
Audio Book
384

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.