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The Invention of Wings: A Novel | [Sue Monk Kidd]

The Invention of Wings: A Novel

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women. Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world - and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection. 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 Grimke’s 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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, January 2014 - The Invention of Wings is a powerful, sweeping novel set in the American Deep South during the nineteenth century inspired by real events. Sarah Grimke is the middle daughter - the one her mother calls difficult and her father calls remarkable. On her eleventh birthday, Hetty 'Handful' Grimke is taken from the slave quarters she shares with her mother, wrapped in lavender ribbons, and presented to Sarah as a gift. Sarah knows what she does next will unleash a world of trouble… putting into motion the kind of change that never comes easy. The Invention of Wings evokes a world of shocking contrasts, of beauty and ugliness, of righteous people living daily with cruelty they fail to recognize; and celebrates the power of friendship and sisterhood against all the odds. I was hesitant to keep this book as my personal pick for January after I heard it became the next selection for Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0. After all, what more could a book ask for? But as I dug deeper and read more and more of this novel I could not let it go. It is truly one of those rare books that, in my opinion, hit all the marks of great writing: Lush language full of imagery set within as story profoundly grounded in the real world where the characters become a part of you. I can’t wait to re-live the book in audio with narrator Jenna Lamia (The Secret Lives of Bees, The Help) and actress Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave) taking on the roles of Sarah and Hetty - I can’t think of better voices for these characters. What an amazing way to kick-off 2014! —Tricia, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women.

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world - and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.

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 Grimke’s 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.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. 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 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 her search for something better.

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

©2014 Sue Monk Kidd (P)2014 Penguin Audio

What the Critics Say

"Narrators Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye are well matched in talent; their performances of Kidd's dual-viewpoint fictionalized story of Sarah Grimké and her handmaid, Handful, complement each other perfectly. Both Lamia and Oduye adopt an accent and rhythm that befit the social status of their characters, modifying their voices subtly as the two protagonists grow from innocent girls to world-weary middle-aged women. Lamia keys in on Grimké's frustrations and victories in her fight for both abolition and women's rights, making it easy for listeners to sympathize with Grimké's difficult choices. Oduye's interpretation of Handful's personality, including her pride as a skilled seamstress and her yearning for freedom and self-identity, helps listeners connect emotionally to the slave. Together the narrators have created a stellar audiobook." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Jan Rochester, NY, United States 01-09-14
    Jan Rochester, NY, United States 01-09-14 Member Since 2011

    Eclectic, avid listener, favorite book is the one currently in ear.

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    "Historical Fiction - beautifully quilted!"

    The Invention of Wings is written in two voices. The first - Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy judge and plantation owner in Charleston, North Carolina. Sarah and her sister Angelina are directly from history, well known as early abolitionists and women's right activists... you can easily read about them on the internet, but don't until you finish the book.

    The second voice - "Handful" or Hettie, the 9 year old slave girl who is given to Sarah for her 11th birthday present. The book follows both girls... for 35 years... as Hettie's mostly fictional life is stitched alongside Sarah's mostly factual life. The two voices compare and contrast in a patchwork I found beautiful.

    The audio is really good, but I have to tell you after listening to "The Help" so many times Jenna's voice would occasionally break the spell and I would see "Skeeter" in my mind instead of Sarah.

    At the end Sue Monk Kidd explains her research, what parts are historically accurate and where she has taken liberties... made it even more meaningful. A life quilt is pieced during the book by Hettie's mother, but I can picture the book itself as a quilted story... of reaching, losing, dreaming and becoming.

    32 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam - Audible New Jersey, USA 01-10-14
    Sam - Audible New Jersey, USA 01-10-14 Member Since 2013

    Audible Editor. Reader, writer, knitter. Sci-fi & sandwich enthusiast.

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    "Stunning story, perfect performance"

    Just moments after hitting “play” on The Invention of Wings, I knew I was about to experience something special. I was perhaps not as familiar with the writing of Sue Monk Kidd as some of my fellow editors, but I decided to listen upon hearing their praise for this novel. And my interest was piqued even more when I learned that the character of Sarah was based on the real-life Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and early feminist. What I discovered was a beautiful, complex tale of morality, loyalty, and the ever-enduring desire for liberty. Kidd’s writing is full of complex, poignant phrases and detailed scenery that often took me by surprise, forcing me to pause and allow myself to sit with the words a moment longer. After listening, I can’t imagine experiencing this story any other way than through the voices of talented narrators Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye, who brought Sarah and Handful (among other characters) to life with such perfect emotion. I believe listeners will be talking about this book for years to come - I know I will!

    37 of 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 01-10-14
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 01-10-14 Member Since 2007

    I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.

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    "Thought-provoking and superbly written"

    First of all, I tried not to read anything about this book before I began to listen. I really wanted the experience to be my own, free from the opinions of others. If I was going to love it or hate it, I wanted to do so for my own reasons. I hope others will have the same opportunity, but I doubt it. This is going to be THE book club book of 2014. It will be like "The Help." I hope that doesn't cause anyone to shy away from this phenomenal book because they will be missing out on something really important.

    I didn't know anything about Sarah Grimke before I began this book. Kidd not only shines a bright light on a significant part of history, but she makes that history interesting and accessible by making Sarah real. I think it's an extraordinary achievement for an author.

    Good books have a magical way of making me think through all kinds of questions. This one is no exception - but the kinds of questions it raises are different. I kept picturing myself in their shoes. Had I lived in the early half of the 1800s, would I have demonstrated the strength of will that defined Sarah and Angelina? I doubt it. How in the world did these women have such a complete understanding of freedom and equality - and would I have had the same understanding? I doubt it. Who are the other Sarah Grimkes - the women who fought for things we today take for granted? And why have we not heard of them? Who is today's Sarah and what is she fighting for? I can't wait to find out. You know she's out there. Change is inevitable and it doesn't happen without brave women.

    Sue Monk Kidd has earned a place on the shelf next to Barbara Kingsolver. From me, that's high praise, indeed.

    43 of 48 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gayle Lodi, CA, United States 01-13-14
    Gayle Lodi, CA, United States 01-13-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Liked it; did not love it"

    Perhaps I expected too much after seeing the many five-star reviews. I liked this book but did not love it.

    Somehow I wanted more. More depth, more from Sarah, more of the relationship between Sarah and Handful. Perhaps because this is based on the lives of two real life sisters, the author did not want to presume or invent too much. For whatever reason, I was a little disappointed.

    I did love the narration of Adepero Oduye. I felt she portrayed "Handful" with just the right touch.

    19 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    FanB14 Rockville, VA, United States 03-04-14
    FanB14 Rockville, VA, United States 03-04-14 Member Since 2011

    Short, Simple, No Spoilers

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    "If it Weren't True, I Wouldn't Have Believed it"

    Maybe it's unfair to rate this after just having finished, "Twelve Years a Slave". I found this book formulaic and forced. Alternating narrators told the side of Hettie, a young slave girl, clever and quick, and superbly performed. She deserves four stars, but split the difference with the narrator for Sara, privileged Charleston girl who sounds as if she is constantly suffering from the vapors.

    Hettie and the story of her intelligent, cunning, talented mother give the first part of the book life. The credit spent was worth it for her story. The last 2/3 mingle Hettie's trials and Sara's arrogant journey. I couldn't wait for her to stop talking so I could hear from Hettie. The girls' friendship never felt authentic or touching, yet forced and when they meet up again at the end, it feels too contrived. Finding out this was based on a true story surprised me, but did not change my overall opinion of the writing. Perhaps my expectations were too high. This was no "12 Years a Slave" nor was it "The Secret Life of Bees". Try the book, "Wench" for a grittier, heart-wrenching tale of friendship and camaraderie during the ugly times of slavery.

    30 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret Colgate, WI, United States 01-11-14
    Margaret Colgate, WI, United States 01-11-14 Member Since 2011

    Tell me about a good book. No other gifts necessary.

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    "Like A Walk Through the Hallmark Cards"

    Oh Dear! I had waited with such baited breath and nearly had the vapors waiting for this book. (Did you pick up on the Southern vernacular there?) I wanted to slap this Southern Belle so hard! And then I wanted to shake the author as she was reading her final remarks - really hard. This story had so many fascinating threads with amazing possibilities and Monk Kidd trivialized things into a Hallmark aisle of greeting card inspirations. When I heard in the epilogue what this author's overall intent was, I knew she had missed the mark. The main character and her sister are overshadowed by the mother and daughter characters - but the former are are so lovely, strong, and memorable. Adepero Oduve's narration as Hetty is the only thing that kept me listening. The 4 star rating for performance I gave is primarily for Oduve. I'm guessing that Lamia did as best she could with the material.
    I loved the story of Hetty and her mother but I kept wanting more depth to these women and the plots. I couldn't stop thinking 'there must be more to these women.' Stop throwing inspirational poster lines at me, Kidd! The historical information regarding these sisters (notice I'm not a spoiler) has caused me to stop and reexamine my thoughts and commitments on a number of fronts, and I greatly appreciate gaining that from a book. But nothing grabbed me into Sarah's being. I've heard her story so many times before - I just wanted to get rid of her! I'm wondering if I've heard too much Jenna Lamia. Her saccharine Southern voice became very very annoying and I wanted to give up on this book a number of times through the entire first half. I'm a speech therapist, so I do know her presentation of stuttering was spot on. But I was disappointed to find that it was the only way in which Kidd could give Sarah "depth." Her conflict and growth were explored via so much Southern female drawling suffering, please stop! I'm wondering if I'd like this book more if it wasn't Lamia - again.
    Monk-Kidd has stated that she grew up in the South in the 60's and feels her work is a reflection of her social responsibility to readdress slavery and civil rights. I know others who grew in that place and time and have that same mission. Monk-Kidd achieved that goal with this book; she portrays so much ignorance along with the nobility of those under oppression. I did wonder though if this magnolia scented level of ignorance was truly representative of the time. I will recommend this book to a few friends. I think this will be a fine Oprah Productions movie but it isn't the fine literature I hoped for.

    41 of 48 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 02-07-14
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 02-07-14 Member Since 2010

    I enjoy literary fiction with character depth and psychological exploration. I am in my 50s, work in psychology, and love the outdoors.

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    "A Pleasure Through and Through"

    I was hesitant to listen to this book because I have read so many books exploring the tragedies of slavery and I needed something uplifting but because I enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's, "The Life Of Bees", I gave it a try. I was so glad I did. This book is rich in history, partiularly women's history, offering the reader a chance to be proud of the efforts made by some of the Southern women daring to work on the cause of freeing the slaves. Beyond the history of this book, the story line is gripping, insightful and beautifully written using prose that concisely carries the reader into the world of the characters and helps explore the depth of sadness of the slaves' lives while also exploring the complex relationships between the two races of women who lived side-by-side. I listened to this book while out walking and found myself adding miles to my walk so that I could stay in the beauty of the pages. At the end of this well done narration, Sue Monk Kidd speaks about the history of her writing this book and of the characters involved. Beautifully Done.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Ballwin, MO, United States 02-02-14
    Anne Ballwin, MO, United States 02-02-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Highly recommend"

    Breathtaking story. Sue Monk Kid has matched "The Secret Life of Bees" and I didn't think that was possible. This is a wonderful story, based on the life of the Grimke sisters of Charlotte, NC who were pioneers in the abolitionist and women's suffrage movement. At the end of the novel, Sue Monk Kidd spends a few minutes telling us how this novel developed and helping us understand what parts were historical and what parts were invented by her.

    The narrations of the two main characters - Sarah Grimke and Handful, the slave - by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye were extremely well done. They managed the tone and rhythm of each voice beautifully, along with the other characters in the novel.

    The story encompasses about 35 years of the lives of these two women, beginning when they were about 11 and following each of their parallel paths through some trying and, in some cases, harrowing times. Each is enslaved in a different way and the battles they must fight and the sacrifices they must make are sometimes difficult to reconcile with the idealized history of the USA that is often fed to us these days. Slavery was a terrible institution, backed by the mainline churches, enabled by financial and political institutions and supported by lies and more lies about what it really was like.

    The story also lays bare the helplessness of women at this time and the degree to which they too were enslaved, albeit often in velvet-lined cages that made it very difficult to escape. And if they tried, even the most ardent of male abolitionists often didn't want the womens' voices heard or their situation addressed.

    Kidd gave her characters depth and bredth, flaws and errors, but you really care about them.

    Highly recommend.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tricia - Audible NJ, United States 01-10-14
    Tricia - Audible NJ, United States 01-10-14 Member Since 2010

    Constantly in search of the perfect listen.

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    "An amazing way to kick-off 2014"

    The Invention of Wings is a powerful, sweeping novel set in the American Deep South during the nineteenth century inspired by real events. It evokes a world of shocking contrasts, of beauty and ugliness, of righteous people living daily with cruelty they fail to recognize; and celebrates the power of friendship and sisterhood against all the odds.

    Sarah Grimke is the middle daughter - the one her mother calls difficult and her father calls remarkable. On Sarah's eleventh birthday, Hetty 'Handful' Grimke is taken from the slave quarters she shares with her mother, wrapped in lavender ribbons, and presented as a gift. Sarah knows what she does next will unleash a world of trouble…putting into motion the kind of change that never comes easy.

    I was hesitant to keep this book as my personal pick for January after I heard it became the next selection for Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0. After all, what more could a book ask for? But as I dug deeper and read more and more of this novel I could not let it go. It is truly one of those rare books that, in my opinion, hit all the marks of great writing: Lush language full of imagery set within as story profoundly grounded in the real world where the characters become a part of you. I look forward to re-living the book in audio with the perfectly casted narrators Jenna Lamia (The Secret Lives of Bees, The Help) and actress Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave) taking on the roles of Sarah and Hetty.

    14 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 05-28-14
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 05-28-14 Member Since 2005

    malfi

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    "Fascinating True Story"

    I had not read any of Sue Monk Kidd's previous books--they sounded too much like the kind of schmaltzy Southern women's fiction that I really do not enjoy.. But this one sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. The main character is based on a real person, Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a Charleston judge and plantation owner. In the nineteenth-century, she shocked her family and community by becoming a Quaker and a noted abolitionist. Coming from a slave-holding family, she was the perfect spokesperson--once she overcame a stammer that she had had since childhood. She was also one of the first to speak in favor of women's rights. Her younger sister Angelina also became a renowned proponent of these causes.

    The story is told in alternating chapters by Sarah and Handful, a slave she was given as a present on her 11th birthday and with whom the author imagines her forging a friendship. Both young women face struggles, Sarah to conform to social expectations that go against her core values, and Handful to survive the brutal realities of slavery.

    At times predictable and also a bit longer than it needed to be, 'The Invention of Wings' is nevertheless an engaging read, particularly because of the unique and realistic voices Kidd creates for her two protagonists and the parallel events in their lives. The two readers are excellent.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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