The Invention of Wings


Two young girls, growing up in Charleston, South Carolina during the early 1800s, struggle to find their wings along the divergent paths they have been allotted in life.  Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a wealthy Southern judge while Hetty "Handful" Grimke is the spunky slave presented to Sarah as a "gift" on her eleventh birthday by a domineering mother.  Sarah reluctantly welcomes Handful into her life.  Finding the practice of slavery distasteful, she uses the opportunity to teach the young black girl how to read and write.  Sarah also demonstrates for Handful how they can treat each other with respect and dignity in spite of an uneven social standing and grave economic disparity.  Sarah, though she lives a life of privilege and extravagance, also finds her dreams limited because she is female.  She speaks out liberally and often against both the injustice of slavery and the constraints put upon women and girls.  She is unafraid of the consequences of her feelings, and her mother Mary is often shamed by what she believes to be her daughter's momentary rebellion.     

Handful was better understood by her own mother.  Charlotte gifted her daughter with the strength of her experiences, hope for a better future, and a deep love that knew no boundaries.  Charlotte, valued by the Grimke family as a talented seamstress, presents the story of her past to Handful in the form of a treasured story quilt and tales of the spirit tree.  She is bold and spirited and often takes chances with her own life in order to better her daughter's.  When her fearless mother is absent, Handful is drawn to the courageous Denmark Vesey, a free black man and father figure, who is passionate to win emancipation for his enslaved brethren.                       

Sue Monk Kidd explores the pursuit of freedom on both sides as the seeds of the abolition movement are planted, and the idea both unites and divides the country in "The Invention of Wings."  The author borrows facts from the real life abolitionist and women's rights activist Sarah Grimke.  The result is a moving story that shows the power one person can have as a catalyst for change or as a formidable force in changing the minds of others.  The book covers a span of 35 years, and the author lays a trail of excellent character development as the two girls grow into women.  While they lead parallel lives, Sarah and Handful are ultimately wishing for the same things and are forever tied together by the inspiration they receive from each other.      

As Sarah Grimke champions the idea to end slavery, she is eventually joined in her efforts by her younger, more fearless, sister Angelina.  The women face their adversaries, battle public conscience, and experience love and loss.  In spite of the endless array of challenges, they refuse to accept failure.  Early in the book, Sarah makes a promise to Charlotte that she will see Handful free.  She gives her entire life towards the hope of fulfilling that one promise.  Sue Monk Kidd delivers a powerful account centered around an affliction of history that was sought to be made right by the color blind Grimke sisters willing to absorb the risks and accept the sacrifices of their convictions.            

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