So, I have a confession to make. I have a stupidly annoying habit of starting a book and then getting really distracted by newer, shinier books and forgetting all about the original book I started. I’m sure it’s not just me… right? I hope it’s not just me. Sigh. Anyway, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Actually, my confession brings me to my latest review. This one seemed like it kind of took forever because I got way distracted and had to come back to it later. I really liked the book and it had awesome ratings and reviews, but whatever. The point is that I got my crap together and finally finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I was totally digging this book from start to finish. Actually, when I was in the home stretch (the last 100 pages or so), I read a couple of reviews of this book, which led to a pretty rad discovery. I found out that while the story itself is fiction, the main characters are based on real people – Sarah Grimké and her sister, Nina really did fight against slavery. The author did a tonne of homework, reading through letters, diaries, and whatnot to get to the bottom of who they were. That’s pretty friggin awesome. Knowing that this book is based on real people made me love it so much more. I also had mad appreciation for the characters that were fictional, like Hetty, nicknamed Handful. I can already tell I’m way too excited to be writing about this book, so let’s get to our itsy bitsy summary of the story!
First of all, this story takes place in the early 1800s before slavery is eradicated in the USA. Our main character, Sarah Grimké, is a slave owner’s daughter, but she is passionately against slavery. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given a slave named Hetty as a gift. Hmm… Gee, thanks mom? So, because Sarah is so opposed to everything about slavery, she tries to refuse the gift. In addition to learning about Sarah, Kidd also gives us Hetty’s perspective. Hetty is also extremely independent, but has to suffer additional strains and extreme pressures that come from a life of oppression. Hetty and Sarah become friends, although their friendship grows increasingly complex as time goes on. For Sarah, she finds herself unable to help Hetty enough or to protect her. For Hetty, I found that she was extremely insightful and refreshing. Interestingly, she seemed to be free in spirit even if her body was enslaved, making Hetty freer than Sarah in many ways. I was totally into Hetty’s personality and loved every single bit of her psychological insight. At the same time, I found myself rooting for Sarah’s character all the way through, especially during her passionate fights for a more egalitarian world.
“She used to say, you got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”
– The Invention of Wings
Sarah deeply longs for Hetty’s freedom from slavery, so she gives her one of the only things she is able to give her – Sarah teaches Hetty how to read. Passing on the skill of literacy to Hetty was a criminal offense at this time in the southern United States. I felt like Sarah’s parents should be way proud of their little revolutionary, but they punished her and Hetty instead. Ugh… lame. Sarah’s parents took away her access to her father’s library and his books, and beat Hetty. The books and the library were Sarah’s favourite things, and that’s what makes this punishment super severe and friggin awful. So, anyway! The next skill that Hetty learns is sewing. The ability to sew is actually super helpful as Hetty becomes the best seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, the family delivers a further blow to Sarah’s love of books and learning when they tell her that women can’t be lawyers and tell her to adjust to her future life as a wife and mother. Sarah is really upset by this advice, but tries to find her own way through life. Sarah’s journey is filled with struggles and lasts quite a long time, ending with her becoming an abolitionist. Sarah fights for everyone’s rights, including her own rights and freedoms as a woman.
Ok guys, I’ll be really honest here and tell you that I completely fell in love with this book all over again when I wrote that little summary. I felt nothing but head-over-heels, crashing, soul-gripping love for this story and these characters. So, what did I like most about the book? I loved the ways that I felt connected to each of the main characters for different reasons. Kidd has a spectacular writing style that I just love and it makes me want to track down anything written by her so that I can devour it like a heaping piece of chocolate cake. Frig, I love her so so much. I liked that the story was told by alternating the perspectives of Hetty and Sarah. I felt like this format really allowed me to get to know these characters and to understand the story on a different level. What did I not like about the book? I really had to think about the answer to this question because there wasn’t much that I disliked about the book. If I had to name a dislike, I would say that Hetty’s narratives are a little gruesome in parts where she describes the discipline that the slaves receive during the story. However, I simultaneously feel like these descriptions give the story context. Oppression is never pretty, but maybe it’s hard to move forward without understanding what holds us back. I would absolutely recommend this book to historical fiction fans and anyone who likes stories about surpassing obstacles.