A well-researched, beautifully written story of real-life abolitionist Sarah Grimke’s lifelong quest for racial and gender equality. It is told parallel to the (fictionalized) story of her slave, Handful, who refuses to allow her mind to be enslaved even if her body is. It follow both women from the ages of eleven through fifty as their lives grow together, apart, and back together again.

Sarah Grimke and her sister, Angelina, are fascinating historical figures who have been largely forgotten. Despite living in the Grimke’s hometown of Charleston, Sue Monk Kidd says in her lengthy Author’s Note that she hadn’t heard of the sister’s until she saw artist Judy Chicago’s art installation, The Dinner Party (a must-see). Both figures are definitely worth researching further, but don’t Wikipedia them until you finish the book!

I got frustrated with the middle portion of the book. Sarah’s struggle to find her place in the world is realistic, but not the most interesting to read. It’s a lot of “I think I found my true calling …. and then it didn’t pan out”, “I finally found where I belong … but now I have to leave”. I think Kidd was very keen on keeping Sarah’s narrative as realistic as possible, including her many botches plans and failed attempts. But I often felt that the pacing was really off — pages and pages devoted to her struggles with the Quakers, and almost no time devoted to Charleston’s slave rebellion or more action-driven scenes. Many times when reading Sarah’s section I was eager to get back to Handful’s story, which was stronger overall.

Invention of Wings is begging to be your next book club book!


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