Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Pages: 373 (hardcover)
Publisher: Published January 7th 2014 by Viking Adult
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: Checked out of library
Date Completed: March 17, 2014
The first book I read by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees, gave me lot to think about while still sweeping me up in a compelling story. I was excited when the Partners and Professors book club selected the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd for our February meeting. As I started reading, I was again swept up in the story and a bit guarded because I feel like lately I have read several books with similar themes.
In the months between finishing the book and writing the review, the thing which I keep thinking about is the importance of not only believing in yourself, but in having men (aka those with power and investment in the current structure) also believe in you. There is a powerful scene where Sarah makes a declaration that she wants to become a lawyer and her father public mocks her and basically shuts her down. After reading and reflecting on that passage and the rest of the book, I felt profoundly lucky that my own father always encouraged and believed in my ability to do great things. Even now, I have the chance to take the bar exam because he and my mom believe in me enough to provide resources to make it possible for me to try again.
I also love the intersection between race and gender. As Sarah and her sister Angelina begin working in the abolition movement, they start to give voice and power to the need for women's empowerment. The conflict this causes and their response to it is one of my favorite parts. As Handful begins to find ways to connect to the world outside the Grimke farm and figure out how to make her own path, I love the way her power and resources are cultivated to bring her freedom while honoring her past. The novel is certainly about women finding and asserting their powerful. It is also about friendship, reaching across race and class lines, but in a way that feels real and complicated.