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The Invention of Wings: book review

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‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd is certainly a novel you’ll remember. Kidd was popularised by her novel ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ and although she hasn’t actually written a vast number of books, the one’s she has written are definitely worth reading. ‘The Invention of Wings’ has been sitting in my bookshelf for over a year now, and I’d never had time to read it until this month as I’d been so busy with college work, however I’m so glad I did finally get round to reading it. The story is set over a period of around 50 years, beginning South Carolina in the early 1800s where slavery was at it’s peak. What’s interesting about this novel is that there is not one protagonist, but two, and the chapters alternate between their narratives showing their inner most thoughts and interaction with each other. Sarah Grimke was presented with Hetty Grimke, better known by her mothers name of ‘Handful’, a young black slave girl on her 11th birthday, and the novel essentially explores their individual journeys to freedom and the impact they have had on each others lives.

What I think is so incredible about Sue Monk Kidd is her use of characterization, seen in her other novels as well as this one. Each character she creates is so unique and has so much depth, even if they are only a secondary part. And obviously, good characterization is key in this novel with the dual narrative structure, yet Kidd effortlessly creates an individual voice for both Sarah and Handful. Sarah is a shy being who suffers from a stutter, however she is clearly very opinionated and anti-slavery, she even attempts to educate Handful which of course, was forbidden. She also faces prejudice as she is a woman, and therefore isn’t allowed to follow  her childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer, and her narrative focuses on her journey of self discovery and assertion, plus her emotional attachment to Handful. I think it’s wonderful how Kidd has explored so many types of prejudice in this novel and illustrated how the characters rise up against this prejudice, with Sarah refusing to marry a man who will force her to abandon her dreams. It’s truly an empowering novel, not to mention being relatively quick paced, meaning it’s interesting and engrossing throughout.

Next there is the plucky, confident character of Handful. Its somewhat ironic that Handful is so much more outgoing that Sarah when she faces even greater prejudice and restriction, however I think this shows the inner strenght of her character, and perhaps she inspires Sarah to become more assertive. Kidd has also used beautiful imagery and motifs, such as the spirit tree, to illustrate the importance of spirituality to the black community, demonstrating Kidd’s historical knowledge. Handful and her mother attempt to save enough money to ‘buy their freedom’ however this is not successful- yet even this doesn’t stop Handful’s determination, and eventually she escapes to liberate herself, much like how Sarah is attempting to follow her dreams and free herself from society’s stereotypes, essentially growing her own pair of wings.

What also stands out to me with this novel, besides the engrossing plotline, is Kidd’s beautiful use of language. Some descriptions I had to re-read multiple times as they were just so lovely, particularly the image of the moon being a ‘white button stitched into the sky’, which also links to a Handful’s love for textiles, and Sarah’s silver button which to her is symbolic of her self assertion, so when analysed these beautiful descriptions link the characters and cut through the society’s labels to reveal the bones of love and humanity, and of course the unbreakable friendship between Handful and Sarah. I think Kidd’s poetic language is what makes her work such a joy to read, and I truly believe she deserves more recognition than she recieves, particularly amoungst writers who explore the mistreatment and then liberation of the black community.

Obviously, I won’t spoil the ending of the novel, however I would recommend it to anyone, no matter what genres of literature they’re interested in. Sue Monk Kidd is an incredibly talented writer, and this novel explores self expression, equality and above all, freedom. All things I think it’s important to promote.

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