I love to read, but while the books I’ve read lately have been interesting or informative, they haven’t sucked me in. Earlier this summer I was really craving a really good book that I could dive into and lose myself in the story. I found it when I opened The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.
I loved this book, a claim I don’t make lightly. The Invention of Wings tells the story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, sisters from a very prominent family in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 19th century, and Hetty, the slave gifted to Sarah on her 11th birthday. I devoured the novel in a day. I can’t tell you when the last time was that I did that.
The book made me laugh, cry and think. Jim Valvano said those three actions were necessary for a good day and I have extended his thoughts to be my requirements for a good book. (Admittedly there were far more tears than laughs, and really there were more just smiles instead of laughs, but that’s to be expected in a book that addresses the horrors of slavery.)
It also led to me to learn more about the Grimkes, and I consider the motivation to do my own research to be the sign of a good book. The Grimkes were important trailblazers in both the abolitionist and women’s equality movements, who, I believe, history has not given them their due. Hopefully this book will change that.
The Invention of Wings covers a lot of territory and a host of significant issues, including slavery and its role in our nation’s founding, women’s rights and the true meaning of equality, religion and its role in politics, the power of hope and courage, the complications that come with all familial relationships, the many ways to preserve memories, the value of creativity and the importance of sharing stories.
I know, that’s a great deal to digest. But it’s all so important. If I had any criticism of the book, it would be that there was just so much that not everything got the space and attention it deserves, but that’s yet another lesson of the book, I believe.
True confession: about a third of the way in, I may have let my fingers wander to the back page of the book and started casually flipping. I know, it’s a sin, or something, but I did. And you know what? I’m so very glad that I did. I skimmed the author’s notes (it doesn’t count if you aren’t reading really closely, right?) and learned that at least two of the main characters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, were real people.
Suddenly, this work of historical fiction carried so much weight, and import.
I’m so grateful to Sue Monk Kidd for sharing her research and the decisions she made about the historical facts and any alterations to them when writing The Invention of Wings. It made me want to reread the book again, this time with the knowledge of her process and choices.
Of course, I probably would have realized how true it was if it I had stuck with it a bit longer. Nevertheless, I still cheered when Lucretia Mott made an appearance.
Then I realized what a history dork I am.
And then I was glad that Sue Monk Kidd wrote a powerful book that appealed to that part of me, as well as the part of me that just needed a really compelling read.
If you’ve read The Invention of Wings, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. If you have suggestions for other books, I’d love to have them!
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