Book Review: The Invention of Wings

January 7, 2014 Book Review, reviews 6

Book Review: The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
Published by Viking
On January, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Source: complimentary review copy
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I have been a fan of Sue Monk Kidd since reading The Secret Life of Bees for my book club ten years ago.  I’m one of those readers who, once I fall in love with a book, I will continue to read everything that author has ever written ~ which I did.  The Mermaid Chair left me wanting ~ I was expecting another Lily Owens but got marital strife instead.  The Dance of the Dissident Daughter was fabulous and gave me a bit of background into how/why the spiritual fundamentals of The Secret Life of Bees came about.

So. . .going into The Invention of Wings I was not certain what to expect.  It was my first read of 2014 as I wanted something with meat. . .something a bit profound.  What I got was so much more.

We follow the lives of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke beginning in late 1803.  Sarah is the daughter of a Charleston Judge, cotton-farmer and slave holder with dreams of following in her older brother’s footsteps and becoming the first female lawyer.  Hetty, known as “Handful” for that very reason, is the daughter of a well-known seamstress and slave in the Grimke household.  On Sarah’s 11th birthday she is given Handful as her own personal maid of which she refuses and tries to give her back.  Sarah is told to shape up and act like a person of her station. Since a traumatic event at the age of four where Sarah witnessed a slave being cruelly beaten, she has a life-long stutter and quite strong beliefs against slavery.

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said “Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.


The girls become fast friends, sharing confidences, tea and adventures until it’s time for Sarah to enter Charleston society and snag herself a husband.  Handful and Sarah remain friends but at a distance ~ Sarah is frustrated with her role of being “owned” by her father and then a husband; Handful did not appreciate the irony of only being considered 3/4 of a person
and being owned completely.  Told in the alternating voices of Handful and Sarah we get the first-person perspective of being held back, held down ~ either by slavery or by virtue of gender.

All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.

 Based on the real-life Grimke sisters, pioneers of women’s rights and equality, The Invention of  Wings is a powerful novel of finding freedom, challenging the status quo and the horrific realities of being a slave in the early 1800’s.  Profound, full of irony and women’s history, a novel that both makes you thankful to be a woman in 2014 and an encouragement to the power of one. . .one person can make a difference.  Y’all know how I love those kinds of novels!

If you don’t read anything else this year, read The Invention of Wings.  It’s the latest selection for Oprah’s Book Club, hopeFULL, inspiring, tragic, beautiful and an absolute must-read.  It’s been five years since we’ve had a new release from Sue Monk Kidd.  She knocked it out of the park with this one.

Word of Caution: Graphic abuse of slaves.

6 Responses to “Book Review: The Invention of Wings”

  1. patricia harman

    Thank you, Stacy, for that nice review. I had the same experience with Sue Monk Kidd. I devoured The Secret Life of Bees and then tried her other books and gave up…but based on your recommendation, I’ll try again. Your summary of the book also hit me from another direction. I’m the author of The Midwife of Hope River: a novel of an American midwife and am writing a trilogy about the midwives of the Hope River Valley. Bitsy, in the first novel, is African American, a midwife assistant, a plucky, intelligent former maid. She disappears at the depth of the Great Depression but will be back in the third book. All the novels are written first person as journals and I’d like to write in Bitsy’s voice, but was afraid it would be presumptuous…since I’m white. BUT if Sue Kidd Monk can do it, maybe I can too. What do you think?

    • Stacy

      Yes yes yes! That is one thing I’ve been so impressed with Sue Monk Kidd in her ability to do ~ write African American characters with such. . .well, character! I think the key is in the research which it sounds like you are on top of. I have no doubt you can author a compelling African American! I’d love to read it when you do :-)
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