Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Book Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Content alert: abuse of slaves, mob violence, one very mild sex scene
I wish that I had reviewed The Invention of Wings two months ago when I read it and when I was riding high on the narrative. Now that so much time has passed, I worry that I won't do the book justice with this review. That said, here goes:
On the day Sarah Grimke turns eleven, her parents give her the traditional birthday gift for children in her late 18th-century Charleston household: a slave of her own, in this case, ten-year-old Handful. Sarah breaks with tradition when she tries to free Handful that night, and later promises Handful's mother that she will make sure that her daughter does not die a slave. The story of The Invention of Wings is told by both Sarah and Handful. They grow up as unusually close confidants, both bound and restricted in separate ways by their race, gender, and social class. Sarah yearns to become a lawyer, and and although she's smarter than her many brothers, her father doesn't take her seriously. Eventually, the women grow up and the realities of their position as women in the south drives a wedge between them. Sarah moves north with her younger sister and becomes involved in abolition while Handful stays at the family home in Charleston and plots ways to free herself and her mother and sister.
I'm embarrassed to admit that until I was 2/3 of the way through the novel, when Sarah Grimke has moved to Philadelphia and makes friends with Lucretia Mott, I had no idea that the book was historical fiction. I knew nothing about Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who both fought for abolition and the rights of women and were the most popular speakers of their day. The Handful character is mostly fictionalized. Kidd's afterword to the novel is absolutely fascinating. I loved reading about how she went about taking the Grimke story and creating Handful's tale, and weaving them together. The book is powerful and well-written and a page-turner, and I think it would be a hugely popular and appropriate novel for book groups. I'm going to recommend that my girls read it in a few years.