Way back in 2000, I took a chance on a book called The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd. Although Kidd had written spiritual/religious
nonfiction, this was her first novel. I fell in love with young Lily
Owens and with the women who helped her find peace and love. Even
fourteen years later, I still think about those characters and Lily's
I don't know why I never read Kidd's second novel, The Mermaid Chair, but when I had a chance to listen to The Invention of Wings (available in stores next Tuesday), I couldn't wait to get started. Kidd's latest work transports us to the early nineteenth century, when the winds of change began to strengthen in the young United States.
- What's it about: Based on the life of abolitionist and women's activist Sarah Grimké, Kidd gives us two perspectives on the fate of women two hundred years ago. Through Sarah, we learn how a girl from a privileged Charleston family grew into one of the most outspoken women of her time. Through the slave Handful, we learn how black women managed to find pieces of self-worth, even as they were abused.
- The two women: Kidd started with the facts of Grimké's life to create a powerful story of the cost of civil disobedience. It was no easy thing for a single woman of little personal means to leave the comfort of her home and find the strength and courage to stand up for what she believed: that slavery was wrong and that women would remain powerless as long as they lived under the thumbs of men. Handful, born into slavery and as a possession of the Grimkés, fought for a different kind of independence. Witness and victim to the cruelties of her white masters, she nonetheless tried to hold on to the dream of freedom and to remember her mother's stories.
- The wonderful: Kidd made the relationship between Handful and Sarah fairly realistic, which not only kept me invested in the story but allowed each woman to have her own voice. Although Handful is the product of the author's imagination, she shares some similarities to one of Grimké's first maids. A number of historical people appear in The Invention of Wings, and it's fascinating to read about them through Sarah's eyes.
- The odd: I don't know why Kidd gave Sarah a token that was to symbolize, um, I'm not quite sure: her freedom, her future, her self-worth, her hope of education? At one point the silver button becomes Handful's, who also believes it holds some deep importance or maybe some kind of spiritual power. Later the button is returned to Sarah, who still treasures it. I admit that the point of the button was lost on me, and I found it a bit distracting.
- My overall thoughts: I predict that Kidd's latest novel will be one of the hot book club picks of the year (Oprah already tapped it). Major discussion topics are sisters, friendship, slavery, women's issues, Quakers, abolitionists, freedom, independence, education, and living according to one's convictions. The Invention of Wings is a well-researched and accessible look at one of the important social activists of the pre–Civil War era.
- The audiobook: Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye share the narration of The Invention of Wings (Penguin Audio; 13 hr, 46 min). Do not miss their stellar, heart-felt performances. My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine.
- Note on the photo: Sarah Moore Grimké; from Wikimedia Commons; in the public domain in the United States. Click image to see full size.
Source: Review (see review policy)
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