April 21, 2016

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
2014 Penguin Audio
Read by Jemma Lamia and Adepero Oduye
Finished on January 8, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees: a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimkes’ daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Sue Monk Kidd’s sweeping new novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday in 1803, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her waiting maid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in search for something better, and Charlotte’s lover, Denmark Vesey, a charismatic free black man who is planning insurrection.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at one of the most devastating wounds in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

The Invention of Wings has been extremely popular with readers and book clubs for the past two years. When it was first published, I decided not to read it since, with the exception of The Secret Life of Bees (which I read twice), I wasn't impressed with the author's previous works. The Mermaid Chair was a major letdown after The Secret Life of Bees and Traveling with Pomegranates was only mildly interesting on audio. I was also reluctant to read another novel about slavery, the subject matter for so many novels in recent years (i.e., Mudbound, The Help, The Kitchen House, Wench, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, etc.). However, a few of my friends wrote glowing reviews for the audiobook of The Invention of Wings, which made me a little more tempted to give it a try, in spite of my reservations. Unfortunately, the audiobook was only available on from my library on compact discs and I've ceased to use that format, opting only for downloadable content. It wasn't until I received a membership to Audible.com from my daughter that I was finally able to get this book on audio. And, I can say it was well worth the wait!

I am so glad I decided to go with the audio, rather than reading the print edition, as it was absolutely outstanding. As with the audio of The Help, listening to The Invention of Wings was more like listening to a live performance, as opposed to just listening to a narration of the book. I loved both readers, but I especially enjoyed listening to Jemma Lamia, who reads the part of Sarah Grimke. Lamia is also the reader for Wiley Cash's This Dark Road to Mercy, The Secret Life of Bees, Saving Ceecee Honeycutt and The Help. With a perfect Southern voice, reminiscent of Catherine Taber (reader of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake), Jemma Lamia is quickly becoming one of my favorite audiobook readers.

The Invention of Wings is filled with beautiful language, lush with metaphors. I love this little gem of a sentence:
She was a woman the winds and tides obeyed, but in that moment, she was gentle with me.
One of the things I love about historical fiction is that it inspires me to do further reading of the subject matter. As soon as I finished this book, I hopped on the Internet, searching for photographs of story quilts such as those depicted in Monk's novel. You can view some examples here.

Final Thoughts:

While not quite as good as The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Invention of Wings is an informative and engaging story that held my interest from start to finish. I can see how it  would be an excellent choice for book clubs, or for that matter, an American Literature course, perhaps combined with The Help or Toni Morrison's classic Beloved. I'm so glad I decided not to dismiss this book!


  1. I loved the audio of this one too. I think I would have liked it even more if the Author's Note was at the beginning.

    1. It was you and JoAnn who convinced me to give the audio a try, Kathy! It was really very, very good! And, yes, it would have been nice to have the Author's Note at the beginning.

  2. This was such a great audio production! Like Kathy, I remember thinking the author's note should have been first.

    1. As I mentioned above to Kathy, it was the two of you who convinced me to listen to this on audio! You know, I didn't recognize Skeeter's voice, but then it's been several years since I listened to The Help. Both are such great productions!

  3. I grabbed this at the second hand store the other day. Looking forward to it!

    1. Kailana, enjoy! It's a winner!

  4. I thought the same thing about the author's note. Also, I don't like my audiobooks read like "performances." Just a preference. :) Good book, but I thought a little slow in spots.

    1. Joy, I'm just the opposite. I love a good ensemble cast of readers! :) Yes, it was a little slow in spots, but not enough to discourage me from continuing onward.


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