The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking)

Sue Monk Kidd's first crack at racial tensions in 2003's The Secret Life of Bees was set in '64 South Carolina and one of the most affecting books I fell in love with as a teenager. So, of course, her newest Oprah-approved re-imagining of the lives of the famous abolitionist Grimke sisters was top of my list. Monk Kidd takes liberties with details of Sarah Grimke's life, and creates a fictional character, slave Hetty "Handful" to carry the brunt of emotional burden in early nineteenth-century Charleston where slavery is the tried and true way of life. The novel begins on Sarah's 11th birthday when she's given Handful to her as a gift and tries to refuse it, as you can probably guess, that doesn't go over so well. What follows is a tentative and tumultuous friendship that gives rise to Sarah's life-calling of strident activism. At its best, The Invention of Wings is powerful, brutal and important. Unfortunately, Monk Kidd's portrayal of Sarah lacks the emotional intensity of Handful's terrifying upbringing and for that leaves the novel quietly unbalanced, but almost great.

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