Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1800s was a teeming port city and home to wealthy landowners and merchants. The Grimkés were a highly respected, wealthy family who owned a plantation, a mansion in town, and many slaves.
We meet Sarah Grimké on her 11th birthday when she witnesses the scourging of a slave. She is forever traumatized by the act and develops a serious stutter. For her birthday, Sarah is mortified when presented with 10-year-old Handful as her personal slave, a gift she tries to refuse but is forced to accept.
The bond between Sarah and Handful grows. They both suffer extreme consequences when Sarah teaches Handful to read despite it being against the law. Sarah becomes godmother to her young sister Angelina. Over the next three decades, Sarah and Angelina give up their family, religion, and the conventions of society to become abolitionists, Quakers, and a voice for women’s rights. Handful never stops trying to defy the system that enslaves her.
Although Handful is a fictional character, the Grimké sisters are actual heroines who were the first female abolitionists and champions of women’s rights. Sarah was an eloquent writer and Angelina a dynamic speaker despite being castigated by the Quakers who felt their public appearances, which drew huge crowds of both men and women, were highly inappropriate.
Facilitators Mary Jo Johnson and Kay DeRousse were outstanding with their research on the Grimké sisters and even procured pictures of them. Although purported to be beautiful Southern belles, their pictures did not corroborate that description.
The story is told in alternating chapters between Handful and Sarah. Some members felt that made the story difficult to follow. Others had great difficultly reading about the inhumane treatment of slaves.
The group discussed the use of numerous symbols in the novel and had definitive ideas as to the meaning of each. They felt the black triangles on the story quilt made by Handful’s mother represented wings and a flight to freedom. Handful’s “spirit tree” in the backyard meant safety, comfort, and family history. Sarah’s silver button represented her hopes and dreams. The ocean provided a way for both Handful and Sarah to escape and be free.
When asked about their favorite quotes from the book, members jumped at the chance to read a passage they felt was meaningful.
The group felt the title perfectly conveyed the essence of the book and this carefully crafted, historical novel should be on everyone’s must-read list.
About the Author
Born in 1948, Sue Monk Kidd grew up in Georgia during the civil rights movement and those experiences helped shape her as a writer. She earned her B.S. in nursing from Christian University and later took creative writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College.
Kidd was in her 40s when she turned to writing fiction. Her first novel, “The Secret Life of Bees,” spent two-and-half years on the New York Times bestseller list. In addition, she authored several memoirs, including one with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. “The Invention of Wings” is her third novel. Kidd says, “Race matters to me, as does gender. There is something about these kinds of social injustices that go to the deep of me.”
Kidd also has a son Ben and resides in southwest Florida with her husband Sandy.