The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – A Book Review

There are a handful of books that I’ve read in the last few years that are really at a completely different level and have left me spellbound.

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I’m thinking of books like Unbroken and All the Light We Cannot See.  The latest book I finished, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is up there with the others I mentioned.  I absolutely loved this book!

The story is about Sarah Grimké, a woman born to a prominent Charleston family.  On her 11th birthday, one of Sarah’s birthday presents is her very own slave, Handful.  Even at that young age, Sarah felt slavery was wrong, and she adamantly refused her “gift.”  When she wasn’t allowed to refuse her gift, she wrote up papers to free Handful, but her parents promptly ripped them up.

Sarah didn’t fit the family mold for other reasons besides her anti-slavery stance.  She also longed for a career and an education as rich and deep as her brothers.  Yet, as a woman born in the late 1700s, those options weren’t possible for her.  Her father indulges her passions for a while, but when he discovers she’s gone behind his back and taught Handful to read, he punishes her by eliminating her access to his library.  After that, he is much stricter about her role as a woman.

Depressed, Sarah begs her mother, who is pregnant yet again, to let her be the godmother to the child.  Her mother immediately dismisses her.  How could a 12 year old be the godmother?  But when she sees how sad Sarah is because she’s lost access to her father’s books, her mother acquiesces.  So begins an unbreakable bond between Sarah and her youngest sister, Angelina.

The story alternates narrators–one chapter is from Sarah’s perspective, the next chapter is from Handful’s.  I love the depth that this type of narration brings as Handful’s story is equally as compelling as Sarah’s.  Handful’s mother, Charlotte, is a slave in body, but not in mind.  Charlotte continually wrecks havoc on the plantation by doing little things that show she’s not submissive.  She is sometimes caught, and when she is, she is punished with amazing cruelty.  Yet, she is never broken.

I thought this book was fiction until I happened to read a book that Cuddle Bug picked out at the library that included stories about Sarah and Angelina Grimké.  Then The Invention of Wings wasn’t fiction?  How had I never heard of the great abolitionists and women’s rights activists, Sarah and Angelina Grimké before?

When the novel concludes, the author spends several pages noting what she fictionalized and took liberties with in all of the characters’ true stories.  However, much of the story is rooted in truth.  Now I plan to read another book about the Grimkés because their story is a fascinating one.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

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