Thursday, February 6, 2014


Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk-Kidd
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5


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.


Based on real, but not widely known historical figures, The Invention of Wings is a poignant, imaginative tale of two sisters in early eighteen-hundred Charleston born into the power and wealth of Charleston’s aristocracy; and a slave named Handful who yearns for freedom. With them the reader embarks on an extensive, yet deeply riveting, journey as these two Grimké sisters undergo a painful metamorphosis breaking from their family, their religion, their homeland, and their traditions, to become exiles, and eventually pariahs, as they crusade not only for the immediate emancipation of slaves, but also for racial equality - an idea that was radical even among their fellow abolitionists.

This is a novel with many, many layers, and not one that should be read in the span of a single afternoon. From the very beginning it is clear that the author did her research magnificently as she brings to life and stays true to the contours of Sarah Grimké’s history, her desires, struggles, motivations, crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, loneliness, self-doubt, ostracism, and her suffocating speech impediment. Simultaneously the reader is also thrust into Handful’s world. A world regulated by passes, searches, laws and edicts that controls every second of a slave’s life. An existence enforced by sheer brutality where slaves live in fear of being sent off to the Work House for the slightest perceived defiance of their masters, the City Guard, night watch, curfew, and vigilante committees.

On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given a ten-year-old slave, named Handful, to be her waiting maid. Defying the laws of South Carolina and her own jurist father who had helped to write those laws, Sarah teaches Handful to read, for which they are later both harshly punished. Of course, this doesn’t stop Sarah from wanting freedom for Handful and all the other slaves, but instead strengthens her resolve to expedite freedom for Handful by secretly continuing to teach her to read. Over time, these two women form an unusual bond which will bind them and serve as their foundation of trust, loyalty, and comfort for years to come. Although their struggles cannot be compared, Sarah and Handful’s lives are paralleled in their pursuit of freedom, albeit a desire for a different kind of freedom. Handful wishes for a life where she and her mother can live their lives on their own terms and make their own choices, whereas Sarah has an intense desire for a vocation, but is restricted to do so by the laws set in place by men.  Once Sarah’s sister, Angelina, is born and Sarah becomes her godmother, Nina is influenced by Sarah’s anti-slavery views which will ultimately shape her into becoming a formidable abolitionist. 

I can’t express enough how deeply moved I was by the courage and fearlessness of these three women. Even though the story is told in alternating voices between Handful and Sarah, Angelina’s voice isn’t lost, and there are several secondary characters whose voices will leave a lasting impression on many readers. Supporting characters worth mentioning includes Sarah and Angelina’s devout, intolerant mother who is visibly undemonstrative in her affections towards her children, and often malicious to her slaves, inflicting on them severe and cruel punishments. And then there is Handful’s mother, Charlotte, who in her own subtle way proves to be a defiant, vengeful slave on whose bad side you don’t want to find yourself, but who is also the picture of endurance, strength, and resilience. Justifiably, her spiteful actions and behavior stems from continually having to endure abuse and acts of human depravity that defies the imagination.

But let me cut myself short. The Invention of Wings is for fans who enjoyed The Help by Katherine Stockett, and Sue Monk-Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. It’s a glorious treasure trove of metaphors about how we define ourselves and how far we will go to stand up for what we believe in with all our hearts. The author’s interpretation of Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s lives, and their imaginary relationship with the fictional character, Handful, serves as inspiration on how to invent your wings in spite of the difficulties life sometimes have in store for us. In truth, I think everyone will take away something different from this book after reading it. I can’t fault anything in this story - characters, world-building, plot, narrative...anything. Everything was perfect. Even the minuscule amount of romance that was only a mere mention in the background was well-written and tastefully presented. Seriously, you want to read this. Now. Go!



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 and Anderson College, 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 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. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. Kidd lives in Florida with her husband.

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fredamans said...

What a beautiful review! I was keen on reading it before, but some of your points made me want to so much more. Sounds like a poignant, epic read!

Books 4 Tomorrow said...

Thank you, Freda! Yes, it is an epic read indeed! I'm positive you won't regret reading it. :)
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.