03 January 2014

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddWay 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 story.

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.
  • Sarah Moore Grimke, in the public domainThe 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.
Penguin USA / VIking, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780670024780
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 1/3/14, 7:26 AM  

This is on my couch, waiting for me. I have to finish (yet another) trilogy first. Can't wait though to read it! (and to see what the deal is with the token!)

Unknown 1/3/14, 8:29 AM  

I just started reading this one yesterday, and I'm loving the language and the story of Sarah ans Handfuk. Nice review. Enjoyed the format.

bermudaonion 1/3/14, 8:32 AM  

I think I've read all of Kidd's novels and I consider myself a fan of hers. I'm really looking forward to this book. I'm glad to know the audio is so good because that's probably the way I'll read it.

Man of la Book 1/3/14, 8:33 AM  

Sounds like an interesting and thoughtful book. I think that in today's world it's hard for us to even imagine the courage it took to be an abolitionist in America during the early 1800s.


Daryl 1/3/14, 10:32 AM  

i loved Secret Life of Bees ... i wanted to love this one but when i read the NYT review i decided to skip it ... i cant explain it but it just doesnt seem like my cuppa

Anonymous,  1/3/14, 11:17 AM  

Sounds like I should look for this one on audio.

Kailana 1/3/14, 11:43 AM  

Well, I will definitely be getting this on audio when it is out. I am the same as you... I read her first book and never read her second. I have no idea why. It would be nice to revisit The Secret Life of Bees as well.

Amy 1/3/14, 1:29 PM  

Hopefully I'll get a chance to read this!

Julie P. 1/5/14, 8:54 AM  

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this one!!! Love her!

Athira 1/5/14, 11:50 AM  

I just received a copy of this one and cannot wait to get started. I loved Secret Life of Bees but I haven't read any other works by this author.

Literary Feline 1/6/14, 4:01 PM  

I've been waiting to see what everyone else thinks about this book before deciding whether I want to read it. I enjoyed both the author's other books, although The Secret Life of Bees more so. This one does sound good as well.

Margot 1/7/14, 6:28 PM  

My experience with Sue Monk Kidd parallels yours, except I have read some of her inspirational books. I like her, the person, so I'm glad to hear that this one is so good. I'll probably wait for the audio version since it sounds like it might lend itself best to verbal storytelling.

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 1/14/14, 7:27 PM  

Sounds good. I have the audio version waiting for me.

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