Monday, May 19, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid was the FLICKS Book and Movie Club book of the month for May.  I admit that I was already a fan of Sue Monk Kidd and her novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.  I was able to attend a talk by her that the Milwaukee County Library hosted back in 2005 or so with a member of a book club I belonged to while I lived in Milwaukee.  It was interesting to listen to her talk and I did get her autograph.  I am terrible at chit chat with “famous” people and didn’t ask her any questions myself.  Picture me silent and smiling.

Even though I loved The Secret Life of Bees, I thought The Invention of Wings was even better.  Even more fascinating was discovering at the end of the novel that the characters and the major events of their lives were all true.  I could hardly believe it and wondered why I had not heard of them before.  I applaud Sue Monk Kidd for taking some little known important women in our history and telling their story.

Sarah Grimke is the daughter of an important judge in Charleston South Carolina.  On her eleventh birthday she is given a slave, Handful, as a present from her mother.  Sarah does not want a human being as a present and finds the entire process distasteful.  She tries to free Handful, but discovers that her beloved father that had always encouraged her abolitionist debates on the owning of slaves does not share her views and takes away what she values most to make her learn her place as a woman in the South.  When her sister, Angelina, is born, Sarah becomes her Godmother and also helps to shape her views towards slavery and being a woman in the South. Together the two will shape their own fates.

Handful has big dreams of a life outside of slavery, but her mother Charlotte does more than dream.  As accomplished seamstresses, they are among the most valuable slaves owned by the Grimkes.  Charlotte starts to venture out from the family home with a fake pass to take on extra work to make money to save towards their freedom.  Along the way she meets an exciting and dangerous man.  When fate takes away her mother, Handful continues to work for her dreams.

Handful and Sarah are linked together as Handful is Sarah’s slave through childhood until Sarah returns her ownership to her mother. Sarah thinks of Handful as at times, as her only friend, but as Handful reminds her, she is not emptying her chamber pot because of friendship.  Sarah promise Charlotte that someday she will free Handful, and it is a promise that plagues her throughout her life.  How can she make it happen?

I was riveted by this book and had a hard time putting it down, which wasn’t good as I was reading it during my busiest time of the semester.  I loved it.  I love historical fiction and was fascinated by the entire story and especially inspired when I discovered it was true.  I loved Sarah and Handful, they were both strong female characters living in a world where it was hard to be a woman, and even harder to be an African American woman.  I loved how each chapter switched back and forth between their viewpoints throughout their lives.  I loved Sarah’s journey from the South to the North, and I loved Handful’s journey through life in one Charleston home.  It is strange to think that you couldn’t even walk down the street without fearing for your life back then.

The book was a great book club pick as it brought about great discussion when we met.  It is overall hard to imagine a world where owning other people is considered to be okay.  It’s terrifying to realize that people still think this is okay in this day and age.  It’s also hard to imagine a world where as a woman you had no rights and no way to handle your affairs without a man.  It is also disturbing that although there really was a Handful, her story cannot be fully discovered because she was a black female living during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a great book for thought.

Overall, The Invention of Wings is an excellent book and a must read.  It is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of historical fiction.   I’m still thinking about this book even though I finished it two weeks ago!

Book Source:  I purchased this book from


  1. What an enthusiastic endorsement! This book is already on my wish list, but I feel like it needs to be bumped up to the top now!

    Chit-chat with famous people is really tough for me, too. ;-)

  2. This novel truly touched me, and it's one of those books that I want to share with everything. If you liked The Secret Life of Bees or The Help, <then I strongly encourage you to read The Invention of Wings.