The invention of wings

by Sue Monk Kidd

Other authorsTrevor Rayne (Cover artist)
Paperback, 2015



Call number



New York, New York : Penguin Books, 2015.

Original publication date





"The story follows Hetty "Handful" Grimke, a Charleston slave, and Sarah, the daughter of the wealthy Grimke family. The novel begins on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership over Handful, who is to be her handmaid. "The Invention of Wings" follows the next thirty-five years of their lives. Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist), Kidd allows herself to go beyond the record to flesh out the inner lives of all the characters, both real and imagined"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member kitchenwitch04
Sue Monk Kidd has done it again!! When I read The Secret Life of Bees, I knew that this was a book that I would never forget. When anyone asks me about any books that I would recommend, that would be the book I will tell them - until now. Now. I have to include The Invention of Wings as well.

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story takes place in the early 1800's in the deep South. It is the story of two girls, who although come from very different back grounds are both consumed with one common goal - freedom. For Sarah, who is a wealthy & powerful plantation owner's daughter, she seeks freedom from the suffocating discrimination of women that was common prior to the Women's Right's Movement. Women were expected to be the weaker sex, whose only desire should be to be a good wife and mother. Sarah, being the ambitious girl that she was, had much bigger dreams for herself. Dreams she struggled to grasp due to her gender. Hetty on the other hand, was raised as a slave, and dreamt of the freedom to sew like her mother and of being free from the bonds of slavery.

The girls come together on Sarah's 11th birthday when Sarah receives Hetty as a "gift" of sorts, to be her personal maid. Sarah adamantly refuses, but is forced to accept Hetty as her maid. This story spans a 35 year period in the lives of both girls and follows both their fight toward a common goal

The Invention of Wings is beautifully written, with characters that will burn into your memory, where they will remain. It is a often heart-breaking tale, that puts the horrors of slavery in our face where we see the in-humane treatment that the slaves suffered at the hands of their "owners" and society as a whole. There were times when getting though certain sections of the book made me sick to my stomach and brought tears to my eyes. When an author can bring that kind of raw emotion to the reader with her words, you know that this is a master of their craft.

I have to say that The Invention of Wings has gained a spot in my top 20 list of all the books I have ever read. Right along with The Secret Life of Bees. You can count on Sue Monk Kidd to provide an emotional roller-coaster of a story that will have you glued to your chair until the very last page. You can bet that I will recommend it to everyone in search of a book that they will never forget!
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LibraryThing member kebets
Handful, a slave, and Sarah, a woman, tell the story of slavery, Charleston and early abolitionists. Both women know they are stuck in their spot. Handful has grown up as the skilled seamstress daughter of a slave who sees there is more to the world than being stuck inside the walls of a vindictive
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missus. Sarah is frozen in a world where she doesn't fit in - a world where women are meant to be seen and not heard and her love of learning doesn't fit.

When Sarah is 11 - Handful was given to her as her personal slave. As a defiant act she frees Handful using the law books in her father's library. But, her father tears up the decree and it is the first time she begins to understand that she too is a slave in a different way.

Kidd follows the lives of these two women alternating chapters between their voices. Handful weaves the history of her mauma and the slave uprising in Charleston. Sarah weaves her way through the social seasons with only one marriage possibility and he mother breathing down her neck.

And then Sarah accompanies her father to the north for his health. It is there that she first hears about Quakers and begins the path to becoming one of the most renowned Abolitionists. And while on this path - she is able to help Handful on her own path.

This is an amazing book. A book built on the real Sarah Grimke's life. Monk does a tremendous job of weaving reality and fiction together to build a story that makes me want to know more about the real Sarah Grimke'. That is a gift!
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LibraryThing member bookfest
Sarah Grimke and her sister Nina (Angelina) really were abolitionists who came from a slave-holding family in Charleston. This historical novel imagines what their lives might have been, struggling against family and community in their opposition of the "peculiar institution." Their struggles are
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set off against those of Handful, the slave girl given to Sarah for her 11th birthday. Handful, her mother and her sister fight against their enslavement and through their eyes we see the injury and the anger of the Black population. Along the way, we encounter Quakers, free Blacks, and Souther bigotry. Little wonder it's an Oprah Book Club choice.

In many ways, it parallels The Help, but in an earlier setting.
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LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
This novel -- historical fiction -- starts slowly, but really turns into a tremendous story, especially when you discover so much of what these two sisters accomplished for the anti-slavery movement -- and for the beginning of women's rights! The story is set in the early 1800s, first in Charleston
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and later in the northeast. Great character development and very moving... and, of course, almost all the men in this book are evil, either pro-slavery or trying to keep women in their place -- or both!
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
This is the way historical fiction should be done. The novel is perfect for book clubs leaving readers wanting to talk to someone about the injustices in history and the injustices today. I felt outraged with the treatment of slaves and then realized how these same themes are still in society today
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with the rights of LGBT, immigrants, and the evils of society such as child trafficking and the treatment of those in poverty. The characters in the novel left me thinking of the invention of my wings and my life's purpose. It is a wonderfully crafted story about two women and how they impact each other and history.
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LibraryThing member kmajort
Bleh. Tried the audio, as I couldn't get into the HB. Still no go. Flat. Piontless.
LibraryThing member WeeziesBooks
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd was a wonderful read. I was entranced by the shifting in story lines between the two main characters, Sarah and Handful. It sometimes causes confusion or detachment for the reader when there is a time or character exchange throughout the novel. That was not
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the case in this book. It enhanced the story and allowed the reader to delve deeper and connect with each character separately. ‘Wings’ is a story of slavery, abolition and suffrage; and it is also the story of how friendship, love, and respect can be formed and fostered in difficult to imagine circumstances.
‘Wings’ demonstrates how personal beliefs, biases, and traditions are imprinted on people by their family, friends and surroundings. It also illustrates how individuals can and do make choices to change live their lives so they can live in alignment with their own beliefs. The pictures that the author paints of slave vs. land owners living conditions, cultural celebrations and traditions creates a rich tapestry of history for the reader. This was one of those books that I didn’t want to end. I give it a 5 star review
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LibraryThing member schoolnurse
Great story and an excellent audio production of this book. I love it when the author puts the effort into making a great audio production. This production is stellar and makes the story shine with two voices to represent the two main characters. I enjoyed listening to this book on my commute to
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and from work every day. As an extra in the audio production there is an interview with the author at the end where she talks about her inspiration for writing this book. If you love historical fiction, this book is for you!
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LibraryThing member Schatje
Covering the 35 years from 1803 to 1838, Handful (a.k.a. Hetty), a house slave for a wealthy Charleston family, and Sarah Grimké, a daughter of that elite family, tell their stories in alternating first-person chapters. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given Hetty as a present as her own waiting
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maid; her immediate reaction is to reject the gift, but she is told that her “’guardianship is legal and binding [and] there is nothing to be done about it’” (16). Her attempt to set Handful free is thwarted as well. Slowly a type of friendship develops between the girls, Sarah even breaking the law by teaching Handful how to read. As the years pass, Handful becomes an expert seamstress under the tutelage of her mother, and Sarah very slowly develops into a prominent abolitionist and women’s rights pioneer. (This novel is a fictional imagining of the early life of a historical figure; Sarah Grimké was a pioneer in speaking not just for emancipation but for racial and gender equality. Her work inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe.)

The author must be applauded for not forcing a “best friends forever” relationship on the two girls. Considering their circumstances, that would have been unbelievable. Handful explains, “I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt. I don’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It was never a simple thing” (54). As the novel’s title clearly suggests, what the two have in common is a desire for freedom. Obviously, Handful wants to be a free woman. Sarah, on the other hand, wants to be free of the constraints imposed on her by society; she wants to have a profession and to be able to speak her mind; Sarah describes herself as being “afflicted with the worst female curse on earth, the need to mold myself to expectations” (144). Over and over again, her aspirations are “laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment” (88). Handful describes the role of a slave: “A slave was supposed to be like the Holy Ghost – don’t see it, don’t hear it, but it’s always hovering round on ready” (6). In many ways that is the way Sarah and all women of her class are expected to behave: to be quiet and subservient, hovering in the background until summoned by the men. Handful realizes that Sarah is as trapped as she is: “She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of people around her, not by the law. . . . I tried to tell her that. I said, ‘My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round’” (200 – 201).

Handful and Sarah are also similar in their character traits. Sarah describes her sister as having “a lively intellect and [showing] signs of being quite fearless” (88), but the same description could be given to both her and Handful. Perhaps the trait that most stands out is their determination. Handful risks severe punishment by engaging in acts of rebellion. When faced with such punishment, she responds by telling her “backside to brace up” (7). For Handful, blackbird wings, which she adopts from her mother’s stories and incorporates into her quilts, serve as a symbol for her desire for freedom. Her mantra becomes “’We gonna leave here or die trying’” (337). Sarah is equally defiant, rebelling against her parents and society even in the face of widespread approbation. Her speech impediment, a fitting symbol of her being silenced, does not stop her from expressing her beliefs: “I told myself the affliction in my voice wouldn’t stop me, it would compel me. It would make me strong, for I would have to be strong” (20). Sarah uses a sterling button, which she begins to wear prominently, to remind her of all her hopes and dreams. Her mantra is “If you must err, do so on the side of audacity” (8).

Of the two stories, it is Handful’s that is stronger, and it is for perhaps this reason that she has the first and last chapters. Perhaps Sarah’s story is less compelling because she is not usually in physical danger whereas Handful’s life is in imminent danger several times. Sarah says that, “Being an abolitionist could get you attacked right on the streets – heckled, flogged, stoned, killed” (305 – 306), but her safety doesn’t seem to be seriously threatened. She faces expulsion from a church and a city, and has a lot to lose in terms of social status, but she has money. At one point, Sarah realizes that her broken heart after a rejection is “merely unfortunate” when compared to a slave’s being apprehended by guards, a truly “tragic” event (141). That is perhaps the situation throughout; Sarah’s situation is much less dire than Handful’s. Handful endures loss and sorrow on several levels whereas Sarah experiences, according to the flyleaf, “crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism.” Of course, I do not mean to dismiss emotional suffering or to diminish what Sarah Grimké accomplished; I can only admire what she achieved and stand in awe of her courage in standing up to men: “’Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks” (334).

Despite her stronger story, it is not Handful who is the most memorable character but Charlotte, Handful’s mother. Handful learns to be shrewd, tough, and defiant from her mother whose understanding of the world “came from living on the scarce side of mercy” (3). It is Charlotte who instills the desire for freedom in her daughter by telling her that her shoulder blades are the remnants of wings which will one day grow back. Sarah recognizes Charlotte’s keen intellect: “Of all the slaves Father owned, she struck me as the most intelligent, and perhaps the most dangerous” (30). She is dangerous because she instills a pride in her daughter, telling her, “’I is a ‘markable woman, and you is a ‘markable girl, and we ain’t never gon bow and scrape’” (76) and “’Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth’” (112). Charlotte wants to be remembered not as a slave but as someone who belonged “’to nobody but herself’” (304).

The use of two women from totally different backgrounds emphasizes that the lives of both slaves and wealthy white women were affected by “the peculiar institution” (144). Both the story based on a real person and that based on a fictional character can remind us that we all need to take wing.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
Parallel stories of two young women from childhood through adulthood, one a slave owner and one her slave, beginning in the early nineteenth century in Charleston SC. We care deeply for the characters while we see an inside glimpse of the toll of slavery on all involved. We also see the Quaker
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community of the time, with its brave anti-slavery stand juxtaposed with hypocrisy of prejudice and misogyny.
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LibraryThing member MaureenCean
This was a really nice book, and the production quality of the audio edition was excellent. There were two different narrators to follow the alternating points of view in the story and they both came across to me as representing the characters portrayed exceptionally well. You can read about the
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plot in the other reviews, but the part I would like to highlight is the author's note. Often with historical fiction you don't get a lot information about how the author researched and developed the work to be historically accurate, but not so in this case. The author is very specific about what is real and imagined, and she goes on to describe what happened to the sisters throughout the rest of their lives. Very nicely done and appreciated.
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LibraryThing member shirleyonn
A wonderful read. Love the writing: the imagery and the metaphors.
LibraryThing member latorreliliana
Time slavery. Two sisters fight for end of slavery.
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
“There was a time in Africa when people could fly.”

With that first line, and having so much liked the author's The Secret Life of Bees, I thought I was sure to love this novel. Initially, I was a little disappointed. The writing is beautiful, as I expected, but the story didn't grab me, didn't
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set itself apart from other stories I've read about slavery in the United States.

Fortunately, that slight disappointment didn't last long. I quickly cared about the characters, and wanted to know more. One of my initial responses was that people could not be as strong and defiant as some of the characters were, but I changed my reaction as the story went on. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The author's notes at the end of the book were wonderful, and made the story I'd just read all the more meaningful. If you read the book, don't skip those notes, but do wait until the end of the book to read them because they contain spoilers.

This book is a choice for Oprah's 2.0 book club, which means many people will read it just because it was chosen by her, and many people will avoid it for the same reason. I've read quite a few of the books she has recommended, and have loved some of them and not cared for others. If the subject interests you in the least, give this book a try. I'm certainly glad I did.

4.5 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member cyncie
What a powerful depiction of the pre-Civil War life of a slave and her teen master, how their lives are forever changed by their relationship. This is based on a true family of Charleston and makes one recoil at the cruelty of mankind toward one another. The ugly face of slavery is richly drawn in
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the images that this author creates of tremendous pain, suffering, anger, and fortitude.
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LibraryThing member khiemstra631
I would give this book ten stars if L.T. offered that option! This historical novel will be a great choice for book discussion groups. The book begins and ends in Charleston, SC and chronicles the life of Sarah Grimke, her sister Angelina (Nina), and Sarah's slave Handful. Sarah received Handful as
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a gift from her parents on Sarah's 11th birthday. Later, she gave her back to her parents because she could not condone slavery. In the time between the two events, the two women grew up together and became close friends. Although that relationship would wane in ensuing years, neither could ever forget it. At the time of the gift, Sarah promised Handful's mother that she would set Handful free. She began the fulfillment of that promise by teaching Handful to read, an illegal act. Kidd based her novel on the true story of the Grimke sisters and that of their family in Charleston. To the law firm that now occupies the Grimke's former Charleston home, I would say "Be ready for an onslaught of visitors who want to see Sarah's home." Don't miss this one. The chance to read about slavery from the viewpoint of the slave and the master alone make it worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member PopcornReads
Book Review & Giveaway: As soon as I discovered bestselling and multi-award-winning author Sue Monk Kidd had a new novel coming out, I was dying to read it. I’ve loved this Southern author’s novels since the day a friend recommended The Secret Life of Bees. I spent a couple of years in
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Charleston, SC, so I was very excited to see how The Invention of Wings would capture that unique city. To give you a frame of reference, Charlestonians often refer to the Civil War as “the great unpleasantness” and refer to their city as the place “where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together to create the Atlantic Ocean.” Yes, Southern drama is alive and well in Charleston. That makes it a fun setting for a novel of any kind.

The Invention of Wings is historical Southern fiction and ,when you begin to read it, you won’t be many pages in before you understand completely why it’s the newly resurrected Oprah’s Book Club’s first pick for 2014. I’m thrilled the publisher has provided a copy for us to use in a giveaway for someone to win!
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LibraryThing member techeditor
In spite of all the wonderful reviews of THE INVENTION OF WINGS, for me, it got off to a bad start. Although this is a story that involves two historical characters, sisters who were abolitionists and who also spoke up about women's rights, the author chose to devote half of the book to the
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childhoods of one of the sisters and her slave. If you, like me, prefer books that grab you and won't let go, this didn't seem to be it.

But, if you stick with it, this really is a good book. While it continues to be told alternately by the one sister (a historical figure) and the slave (pure fiction but imagined from an actual slave who was given to the sister and died soon after), this part is based on fact. Also, many of the other characters in the second half really did exist.

The author, Sue Monk Kidd, wrote an interesting Afterward in which she explains what is fact and what is fiction. So don't just stop when you finish the story; read this Afterward. The story will mean more to you if you do. And you will know which reviewers read it and which skipped it. For example, many will say that the story of Handful, the slave, was based on an actual person. Not true says Kidd.

I won this book from
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LibraryThing member amandacb
Normally, I love Sue Monk Kidd, but I felt at times that she was trying to be too poetic here. The premise of the novel is not original, either -- a slave and her owner become something akin to friends -- so I felt a bit bored with the novel. Monk's novels, when they stay away from maudlin poetry,
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are usually excellent.
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LibraryThing member bezap
A must read. Amazing historic fiction sweeps from Charleston South Carolina to Philadelphia and New York in the North. The author skillfully blends the descriptions of slave life with the anti-slavery, abolition and women's rights movements. In alternating chapters the story unfolds through the
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eyes of two main characters Sarah, based on the real life of Sarah Grimke, and the fictionalized character - a slave, the girl named Handful. I am in awe of the amazing, brilliant, courageous women who sacrificed and devoted their lives to purposes greater than their own selfish needs. Congratulations to Sue Monk Kidd - this book will definitely be a best seller!
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LibraryThing member susan0316
I don't read a lot of historical fiction but I thought that this book was fantastic. It was a fictionalized story of the Grimke sisters of Charleston SC. Their family were slave owners in the pre-Cival War era. Sarah was given her own slave on her 11th birthday. The story is about their lives -
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slave and owner and the way they change as they grow up. Sarah becomes an abolitionist and a Quaker and an outcast in Charleston. It is an excellent book and I would highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Quiltinfun06
I truly appreciate the attention to detail Kidd delivers. Her intense research was obvious in the telling. I thought Handful was a brilliant portrayal of an enslaved woman. The reader can feel slavery through her. To this end, The Invention of Wings is an incredible story. However, for me, it was a
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bit too heavy and drawn out. In an attempt to be truthful and complete, Kidd brought too much to the book. It became at times laborious. I found the ending extremely abrupt. Where it would have been appropriate to have more she gave less.
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LibraryThing member Lschwarzman
I haven't had a book keep me up to the wee hours of the morning for a long time, but Sarah and Handful endeared themselves to me, and I couldn't wait to find out what was to become of them. This is a beautifully written story set in Charleston in the early 1800s. It is the story of the daughter of
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a judge and a slave girl who grow up together. The more time Sarah spends with Handful, the more she realizes that slavery in wrong. Sarah sets herself on a course that will leave southern culture in an uproar. Sue Monk Kidd does not disappoint with this story.
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase
Kidd’s retelling of the Grimke sisters and their fight for equality for women and the abolition of slavery is told with sympathy and fact. Although much of the story is fiction, Kidd manages to remain true to the real life story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke
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in the days and decades before the Civil War. A number of “big names” appear in the sisters’ ongoing struggle to be heard in a male dominated South and respected in a male dominated North.
The tale loses momentum in the middle, possibly because the sisters’ actual lives also stalled in their middle years. The addition of the totally fictional characters of Charlotte and Hetty carry the story well, giving the slave side of Southern life. The horrors of slavery are graphically depicted.
I can recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in Southern life, abolition, women’s rights, and the life style and treatment of women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina. Also interesting is the role of the church (in many permutations) in the condoning of slavery and the treatment of women.
5 of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member theeccentriclady
I just finished Ms Monks book and have to say she has done it again. I could not put this book down and it touched me in so many levels.
Listening to Sara’s dashed desires to be like her father and become a lawyer. How both society and her family kept her from becoming the woman that was inside
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her. All the difficulties Sara and her sister went through working for the freedom of the slaves but also for the advancement of women enabled me to become the professional business woman I became. I am thankful for these brave women of the 1800’s.
Then there is Handful. We all know about slavery and have read other stories but here Ms. Kidd puts flesh and blood, feelings and dreams on the slaves in her story that tear your heart out. Handful’s mother Charlotte is a very strong woman that gives Handful the strength to stand up for her freedom.
The fact this story takes place in one of my favorite cities in the US, Charleston S.C., is always a plus for me but then she adds quilting and Quakers (which I attend) to the mix which made this a very personal experience for me. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and becoming immersed in this time period and feeling the feeling of these women is such a gift that Sue Monk Kidd is an artist at! She uses a quote in her acknowledgements that I think sums up what she has accomplished. “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.” Julius Leste
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Media reviews

Both Handful and Sarah are admirable characters, though rather disappointingly so. Improbable allies are most engaging when they make life hard for each other and generally it takes them a while to find their common pulse. But Sarah empathizes so completely with Handful from the very beginning that
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we never get to doubt their innate sisterhood. While their identities as mistress and slave imply conflict, it’s not a conflict played out between them. Handful’s rich resentment is rarely directed at Sarah. How could it be? The actual Sarah Grimké may have been as earnest and honorable as she is here, but a little less righteousness might have furnished this story with a wider wingspan.
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