Book Club Banter

Review of 'The Invention of Wings' by Sue Monk Kidd
By Kathy Olsen Adult Services Librarian, Haywood County Library | Aug 13, 2014

Set in the 1800s, this story is inspired by the actual life events of the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angeline.

The style of "The Invention of Wings" is a dual narrative told by Sarah Grimke and her personal slave Hetty “Handful” Grimke (it alternates between short chapters told from each girl/woman’s point of view from 1803 to 1838).

Sarah believes that slavery is immoral at an early age. She even went so far as to attempt to refuse the gift of a personal slave at the age of 11. But, Sarah’s parents do not allow this rebellion to stand so Sarah rebels in the ways that she can.

At one point she even teaches her slave Hetty to read (a crime in Charleston at that time) which has devastating consequences for both of them. As their intertwined stories unfold in their own voices, Sarah eventually breaks from the only life she knows and go north to become an exile, encountering love and heartbreak, defeat and triumph as she searches for her own voice and her place of belonging.

Back home in Charleston, Handful will experience her mother’s mysterious disappearance, finding answers in the story quilt she leaves behind. When Denmark Vesey, a charismatic and charming free black man, plots a dangerous slave insurrection in the heart of Charleston, ‘Handful’ becomes part of the conspiracy that threatens to undo the city.


Inspired by actual historical figures like Sarah and Angelina Grimké and Denmark Vesey, "The Invention of Wings" is the extraordinary story of two struggles for freedom: the battle of Hetty ‘Handful’ to find liberation with the wings her mother promised to her in the story of their family history, and the equally powerful pursuit of Sarah to liberate her own mind and spirit.

This touching novel also speaks with wisdomabout the nature of evil and injustice and the hope that seems to reside in each of us that even the worst evil can’t kill. White southern slave owners are portrayed as morally complicated which makes the story more multifaceted and interesting (we have come a long way since the literature that depicted slavery as a charming way of life that the evil northerners wanted to dismantle) and the slaves are portrayed as not simply victims but also as complex, strong and imperfect human beings.

This compelling and thought provoking novel will soon be made into a film as Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films has acquired the film rights to it. If you would like to read more about it check out this website


Discussion questions

1) Why in the world would Handful leave her writing in the dirt when she knew how dangerous it was to be a literate slave?

2) How are Handful and Sarah similar? How are they different?


Brought to you by Blue Ridge Books and Haywood County Library.


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