Book Review • The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

Iremember first reading this book and filling my mother’s head with the details of it. I felt so empowered, fascinated by the determination of the women in this book. They stood up strong, despite stutters, race and social classification, for the rights of a woman, or of a human being for that matter. International Women’s Day 2017 is themed similarly: #BeBoldForChange which is exactly what this book embodies.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were the first white and female abolitionists from their homeland in Charleston, South Carolina. According to historical accounts, the sisters were steadfastly rebellious and fought not only for abolition of slavery, but racial and gender equality.

Sue Monk Kidd delved into the history of these sisters and in her book she creates the characters she imagines these two women to be. The result proves thorough research by Kidd.

Clearly being more inclined to writing about the life of Sarah Grimke, Kidd also creates a character for a slave girl – Hetty “Handful” Grimke – who Sarah receives as a present for her 11th birthday in November 1803. Kidd narrates the book from the perspective of these two women, as they become friends and the pillar for each other’s survival over the next thirty-five years.

Sarah’s appetite for equality and civil rights starts when she is presented with Handful. She promises Handful’s mother, Charlotte, that she will help free Handful. Sarah then struggles, not just to free her own slave-girl, but also to abolish slavery entirely.

However, she faces difficulty with both promises, and Sarah decides that she will give Handful another form of freedom, the ability to read. In 1800 America, Sarah’s plan is illegal and they both get into trouble. Worse yet, access to her father’s library, where she is able to obtain more knowledge than considered fitting for a female, helps Sarah learn some unnerving things about her society. She sadly realizes that her aims, though important to her, are considered ridiculous and defiant. It helps the girls keep in close contact through everything else they are about to battle.

Sarah and Handful get themselves into more and more trouble and both experience hardships. Charlotte disappears for an extended period of time, Handful’s foot gets destroyed in the “Work House” where slaves are punished, Sarah’s heart beaks repeatedly, and she faces ostracism for her beliefs and defiance. Then, Angelina comes along, like a blessing. After Sarah leaves for Philadelphia, becomes a Quaker and is practically banished from her hometown, Angelina helps with the communication between her and Handful; she eventually becomes Sarah’s loyal companion in rebellion.

The sisters revolt in bold ways: sitting in the negro pews; writing to the newspapers and distributing pamphlets with messages against slavery and inequality; living with slaves, and speaking out at public meetings. Meanwhile Handful is also rebelling in her own way, sneaking out and playing a major role in the planning of an unsuccessful slave revolt.

This novel leaves the reader with feelings of fierce strength and hope while both narrators tirelessly work towards their goals of freedom. Their armies are small and it seems to Sarah and Handful that no one will understand what they are fighting for. The novel is an innovative account of the lives of the aristocrat and the slave girl.

Sue Monk Kidd makes you feel as if you, too, are participating in the war. Every disappointment, victory, depression period and successful encounter, automatically becomes yours. Both women fabricate their wings with each other’s help to fly to physical and mental freedom. This is an inspiring story and, like me, the reader may be favourably disposed toward learning more about the admirable Grimke sisters.

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