Emotional, riveting, and unexpected, The Invention of Wings offers fresh perspectives on our tragic past.
Sue Monk Kidd’s New York Times bestseller The Invention of Wings is set in the early 1800s in Charleston, South Carolina. Sarah Grimke, a plantation owner’s daughter, is given a slave girl for her eleventh birthday. A fierce opposer of slavery, Sarah protests, but her parents force her to keep 10-year-old Handful as a maid. Determined to help Handful in some way, Sarah begins to give her secret reading lessons.
So begins the unlikely friendship of a rebellious young slave and her owner. Unexpectedly, the two aren’t in contact for much of the novel and carry on their separate lives: Sarah focuses on raising her younger sister and eventually moves to the North, while Handful remains in Charleston, helping with slave rebellions and saving up to buy her freedom. It would have been nice to see the two live their lives together, but the radical differences between their lifestyles does make the novel interesting.
While the women go on to achieve great things, they are flawed and incredibly relatable. For example, Sarah struggles with a speech impediment. The characters are inspiring, realistic, and brilliant. Sarah and her younger sister are based on real sisters who were famous for their work in slavery abolition and women’s rights.
The most unique part of the book is the timing of the events. The Invention of Wings starts when Handful and Sarah are 10 and 11 and ends when they are in their forties. This certainly gives the story depth, as the reader can grow up with them and see how they change. However, because so much time is covered in 359 pages, Kidd at times skips several years in their lives. This creates a slight disconnect between the reader and the story.
All in all, The Invention of Wings is a brilliant book. It combines sisterly love, unlikely friendships, and rebellion to create a unique and breathtaking story.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.