(My copy, unfortunately, had the Oprah Book Club sticker on the front. Ugh. But I found a picture of the cover without the sticker to put here. It looks nice, right? So why ruin it with an Oprah sticker?)
Happy Fourth of July! And what better book to review on Independence Day than a book in which the main characters are trying to earn independence for slaves? I love when things work out nicely like that!
The Invention of Wings is told from dual point of views. There's Sarah, who is a white girl in Charleston, a daughter of a wealthy judge and plantation owner. (She's also a redhead, but that hardly figures into the story.) Then there's Handful, a slave owned by Sarah's family. The book opens on Sarah's 11th birthday, when her mother ties a ribbon around Handful's neck and presents her to Sarah, as a birthday gift. Sarah goes against everything and tries to refuse the gift. Just a few years prior, Sarah had been witness to one of her family's slaves being whipped and it had scarred her. Literally. From that day forward she has a pronounced stutter to her speech that she did not have before. She knows, even at that young age, that owning a person and treating them as property is not right. However, she is young and her parents definitely overrule her and she ends up with Handful as her personal ladies' maid.
The story becomes more full, more fleshed out, in the telling of Handful's point of view. The entire book alternates between Sarah and Handful, so the reader gets both sides of each story. Handful, of course, has troubles of her own. Her mother is definitely not a quietly obedient slave. She steals and shirks work and even runs off for entire days at a time without an official pass. Handful spends much of the book worrying about her mauma. And Handful herself yearns for freedom. She knows that there is more out there. Sarah has secretly taught her to read, and this helps her later on as she becomes more brazen in her search for freedom.
There's a very poignant line in the book where Handful observes to Sarah that while she is bodily enslaved, she is free in her mind but Sarah, while free to move about the city is enslaved in her mind. Handful says this to Sarah soon after Sarah undergoes a very public and very embarrassing break-up with a gentleman who had duped her. Sarah has dreams and aspirations of a career, but is unable to act upon them because of societal mores. Handful is free to dream as big as she wants; her physical shackles are the larger problem.
There are so many good reasons to love this book, the setting being one of them. I just absolutely adore Charleston. I love reading about the fancy dresses and the old society. Yes, there were some problems, such as slavery, but still... ah, the romance of it! Another reason to love the book: strong female characters. Both Sarah and Handful are brimming over with gumption! I love how they don't think twice before speaking wildly out of turn. Handful would say things to Sarah sometimes that would have definitely earned her punishment from any other master. And Sarah hardly thought twice before speaking up and out against her father or brothers.
The Invention of Wings is purely fictional, but has a few shallow roots in actual history, and I love that Sue Monk Kidd takes the time to explain all the connections at the end of the book. She delineates between facts that she unearthed and the fiction she wove in between, and gives suggested resources in case the reader wants to pursue the subject further.
One part that is pure fiction is the ending, but I LOVED it! My sister-in-love had recommended this book to me and I texted her the moment I reached the end to ask her opinion: happily ever after? Or no? We agreed to go with happily ever after. It's one of those endings where the reader gets to decide. You're not left hanging; it's definitely an ending; but you get to decide whether the characters in question reach their destination happily or whether someone interferes.
Next time I'm in Charleston, I may just have to see if I can walk past Sarah's house!
*I received my copy from my public library.