Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Our local museum, the Mint Museum, has started a really cool book club program. They choose books that pair nicely with their current exhibits and offer tours that show off some of the things that are either in the books or reflect the period of the book well. One of my book clubs wanted to try out this program so we read and discussed The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's novel about a white woman who became a well known abolitionist and feminist and the black slave woman she grew up with, before we walked around the museum to see examples of household goods from the pre-Civil War South and elaborate African masks and other artifacts some slaves might have known before their enslavement. It added a really cool dimension to an already fascinating book.

Based on the real life abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimke, the novel runs from Sarah's childhood, when at 11 years old she was gifted with her own slave, Hetty (called Handful), to her adulthood when she spoke out publicly against this terrible institution and about the injustices done to all women. Chapters alternating between Sarah's story and Handful's story over their thirty five years together, tell the tale of their lives, the happy and the sad, the terrible and the great, and their relationship to each other. Sarah is the daughter of a conservative wealthy judge, southern aristocracy, but even from a very young age, she confronts entrenched traditions and the inhumanity of slavery. She is incredibly smart and yearns for an education but as a girl, she is not entitled to one, the very idea of her dreams to become a lawyer are laughed off. When she is given Handful as her own personal maid, she finds in the younger child an even more oppressed human being than she is. Her first big act of rebellion, and one that was definitely illegal, was teaching Handful how to read, a skill that would change the course of Handful's life. As both Sarah and Handful grow up, each of them struggles against their respective bonds searching for the freedom and equality they deserve and desire. If they cannot find it within the bounds of the laws of the day, they will find another way.

Sarah and Handful are both amazing and strong women who have much to overcome in their lives because of the time and place in which they lived. Both characters tell their own stories in first person and the chapters alternating between the two of them allows comparisons as well as highlights differences in their circumstances. Each woman lives a constrained life, faces hard or unimaginable sacrifices, and puts right and responsibility above her own welfare and comfort. The story of these two women is both domestic and an insight into the winds of change as abolitionism grew stronger and stronger in our nation's history. The earlier years of the novel felt faster as they built up to the end because the build to the final rebellion was slow and measured, increasing the narrative tension and bringing the reader to the edge of wondering how the book could possibly finish strong and appropriately in so few remaining pages. And yet Kidd has managed to accomplish just that. This is an engaging and insightful look at slavery, feminism, friendship, honor, and perseverance through the fictionalized eyes of a forgotten but important figure in the abolitionist movement and the slave woman who spent so many years with the Grimke family aching for the promised freedom of her own.


  1. I absolutely loved this book. It left an indelible impression on my soul. Great review.
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin'

  2. I've read about a couple of museums that do this and what a great idea. The Mint is on my wish list of things to do in Charlotte.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts