Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings
By Sue Monk Kidd
Published: January 7, 2014

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

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.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My review:

The Invention of Wings is mostly an excellent novel that explores slavery, abolition, and women's rights through the eyes of Sarah Grimke and her fictional slave Handful. Although Sarah Grimke was a real person, it is Handful that feels more real and her character shines from the page. 

The novel is detailed in depicting life in Charleston during that time period for both the high society slave owners and their slaves as well as life for Quakers and abolitionists in Philadelphia. The inclusion of real life historical persons such as Denmark Vesey, the Grimke family, and Lucretia Mott adds to the authentic feel of the story. 

The character of Handful is unforgettable. She is strong and determined and intelligent. I also really liked Charlotte though her actions could be infuriating at times with all the risks she took. I loved how she used her quilt to tell her story and how she had such spirit. 

The one slightly disappointing thing about this novel is that Sarah becomes less vivid as a character as she becomes an adult. I started longing for the sections from Handful's point of view because I found that I didn't care about Sarah as much. The writing style seems to change during Sarah's parts of the story as she becomes a Quaker and moves to Philadelphia. I just lost interest a little bit because of the way the story is told but I did admire Sarah and her sister Angelina for their efforts on behalf of abolition and women's rights. Sarah, Handful, and Angelina were held back by the rules of the world they lived in but they fought back in an inspiring way.

Readers of historical fiction should definitely add this book to their TBR list. The author put a lot of research and detail into the book which really appealed to me as a fan of historical fiction. While the segments from Sarah's point of view are not always as strong, I thought this book was really good in spite of minor flaws. Though I don't usually go for "Oprah books" I think this one lives up to the hype (though I have heard it is better to read the Kindle version without the Oprah notes rather than the annotated Kindle edition). Other similar books I'd recommend are Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill and The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.

Note: I received an e-ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher


  1. Fantastic review! I have had my eye on this book, because I love historical fiction, plus, it has been getting so much publicity. I like that it's set in both Charleston (always wanted to go there!) and Philadelphia. Philly isn't that far from me, so I always love when books take place there. I definitely want to learn more about the Quakers, who seemed to be all over Philly and the surrounding areas. (We have an old Quaker burial ground and building not far from my house.) I'll definitely be checking this one out!

  2. Enjoyed your review, this one's on my wishlist even though I still haven't read The Secret Life of Bees which has been sitting on my bookshelf for years!

  3. Handful's POV sounds fascinating. I keep meaning to check out this author's works, I always hear good things about them!

    Nice review :)


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