Book Review: The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd at a book signing event in Albuquerque, New Mexico in Feb. of 2014. Her most recent novel titled "The Invention of Wings" explores the moral dilemma presented by slavery through the eyes of two women. (Veesees/Creative Commons)

Sometimes it’s hard to stand up for what we believe in, but if we know it’s right, then nothing can stop us. In her most recent novel titled “The Invention of Wings,” Sue Monk Kidd takes us back to the early 19th century, American South. There, we are able to explore the moral dilemma presented by slavery through the eyes of two women: Sarah Grimké, daughter of a wealthy judge, and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, one of the slaves on the estate.

“The Invention of Wings” follows Sarah and Handful from pre-adolescence until middle age, tracking each of their personal battles. Sarah, even from a young age, was blatantly opposed to the evils of slavery. When 10-year-old Handful was given to 11-year-old Sarah, Sarah immediately refused and attempted to return Handful. When that plan failed, the two formed an unlikely friendship, and gained a mutual understanding of each other.

The main conflict arises when Handful’s mother, Charlotte, makes Sarah promise to set Handful free one day. Sarah agrees, but, being a child, she can’t do much. Sarah grows older and eventually returns Handful, and the two remain friends. Throughout the rest of the novel, Sarah battles with her own anti-slavery thoughts and her responsibilities within her pro-slavery town.

For such a long book at almost 400 pages long, “The Invention of Wings” never once made me feel as if it were dragging along. The stories of Sarah and Handful were gripping and made me want to keep reading. The beginning of the novel was probably the highlight of the book, but the ending was a perfect wrap-up.

Having battled so many unfortunate events while at the estate, Handful’s story was ultimately more interesting than Sarah’s, but Sarah’s commentary was necessary as well. On one side, we see what evils lurk on the estate with Handful and on the other, what evils lurk in the town with Sarah. It’s hard not to grow attached to both of these women; we are able to watch them both grow up in a society that is against them and their ideals. Both women are strong and work to overcome the oppressive southern society.

Historical fiction is not the genre I normally gravitate towards, but the premise kept my attention throughout the whole story. Kidd does a great job at staying realistic, and all of the events seem authentic. It’s often difficult to properly portray historical time periods, but Kidd does so with little effort. The most successful part about this book is being able to educate and open minds, while still being entertaining and profound. Any reader could feel transported back to post-colonial America by reading this book. If you’re into history and a good story, then “The Invention of Wings” should definitely be on your bookshelf.


Ryan Amato is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at ryan.amato@uconn.edu.