Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

Published by Viking, January 7, 2014
Selected for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0
A New York Times #1 BestsellerFrom the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees: a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimkes’ daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.Sue Monk Kidd’s sweeping new novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday in 1803, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her waiting maid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in search for something better, and Charlotte’s lover, Denmark Vesey, a charismatic free black man who is planning insurrection.This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at one of the most devastating wounds in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review (5 Stars: Loved it!)

Chapters in The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd alternate between two main characters: Hetty Handful Grimke’ and Sarah Grimke’.  Hetty is a young slave belonging to the aristocratic Charleston Grimke’ family.  Sarah is one of the Grimke’ children.  Sarah is given ten year old Hetty as a gift on her eleventh birthday.  Sarah is opposed to slavery and deals with the oppression of her times, while Hetty deals with the  oppression of slavery.I was immediately drawn into this story and felt connected to both Hetty and Sarah.  The relationship between them was complicated due to their differences, but they cared for each other.  Below is a quote from early in the book, when the girls were young:

“”She laid the book down and came where I was standing by the chimney place and put her arms round me.  It was hard to know where things stood.  People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours.  I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt.  I didn’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe.  She loved and pitied me.  And I loved her and used her.  It never was a simple thing.  That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get.”  — Handful (p. 54)

I felt Sue Monk Kidd did a wonderful job in this book.  We get details of the awful way slaves were treated and learn about their resilience, strength and love for one another.  We also learn about the real life Sarah Grimke’ who became a famous/infamous abolitionist and speaker for women’s rights.There is so much more to this novel that I can’t write in a short review.  This is one of the best I’ve read this year.


  1. So glad you loved this one! It’s on my summer reading list and I’ll be starting it on audio, hopefully, next week.Great review.


  2. Just the fact that you consider this one of the best books you’ve read this year says a lot. I’ve read other great reviews too. Makes me want to read this book.


  3. Wonderful review! I’m glad you enjoyed this novel so much, Pat. This is on my TBR list, and I hope to read it before too long.


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