If you like big sweeping novels that follow characters over a long span of time, and if you’re a fan of Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings is for you. The author of The Secret Life of Bees has penned another bold story about strong women who won’t be held back by circumstances.
The story begins in Charleston in 1803 on the eleventh birthday of Sarah Grimke, a member of a wealthy family. For her birthday Sarah is give ownership of ten-year-old Hetty “Handful” Grimke, who is to be her waiting slave. Both girls have hopes and dreams far beyond their time and life situations. Handful yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the Grimke household. Sarah has known from an early age that she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
The book follows their remarkable journey over 35 years as both strive for a life of their own. They shape each other’s destinies and form a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. This rich story builds to a riveting climax with Sarah and Handful experiencing loss, sorrow, crushed hopes, betrayal and unrequited love. However, they also find courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah, who was inspired in part by a historical figure, is ostracized in Charleston and leaves to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
The author goes beyond the record of Sarah Grimke to flesh out her life as well as all the characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte.
Kidd writes exquisitely and is not afraid to tackle unpleasant subjects while telling a story about characters we like and want to follow. As a reviewer (KW) in Square Books’ Dear Reader Newsletter said, “I was barely 50 pages in before I knew I would follow these two women through fire.” Well put!