Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Year Published: 2014
Reading Level: Diary of a Wimpy Kid ——————X——Moby Dick
Sure it features female characters and their relationships and hardships and maybe all of the make characters are real schmucks, but you really can’t call this chick-lit. If it is chick-lit, Kidd takes things to the level of high art. The novel is well-written and engaging. The Grimke sisters were real woman who really did fight mightily for abolition and for women’s rights, alienating just about everyone along the way. The suspense in the novel tends to come mostly from social and emotional situations for the Grimke sisters. There was a lot of “will oddball Sarah be accepted for who she is by this or that important person” type drama. On the other hand, slaves like Handful and her mom face harrowing dangers. Kidd does not pull any punches with her depictions of violence. I read this book as part of a book club and I did not expect to like it since my tastes usually run to giant robots, aliens or muscle-heads with swords. After a few chapters though, I got caught up in the story and the quality of Kidd’s writing. I was a little disappointed that ultimately, there was not one likable male character. This might reflect the choices of a female author, writing for a mostly female readership, but it might simply reflect these terrible times when many men were behaving even more badly than they do now. The novel focuses sharply on the evils of slavery and the oppression of women, so I can understand why the men (especially the white men!) all come up short, but this made me feel a little like I was trespassing at a slumber party, like the book wasn’t really intended for me and that if I did read it, it had to leave me with a sense of shame. Maybe that’s as it should be.
What’s it about?
The novel is a fictional autobiographical account of two women. Each tells her story in alternating first person chapters. Sarah Grimke is the daughter of prominent, aristocratic Charleston, slave-owners. Hetty “Handful” Grimke is the slave that Sarah refuses to own. Sarah’s thoughtless, domineering mother gives ten-year-old Handful to Sarah on Sarah’s eleventh birthday. The rest of the novel shows the difficulties each girl faces as she grows to womanhood, rebels and finds her spirit, each in her own way, within harsh, dehumanizing conditions.
Nauseating details about the dehumanizing effects of slavery and the sadistic punishments slaves endured. Views of nineteenth century Charleston and other places (including a scene at the Jersey shore!). Horrible, horrible men. A stuttering narrator. Relationship drama.
Themes / Big Ideas
- How do people hang onto hope in hopeless situations?
- What are the limits of love and loyalty?