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The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings

4.2 581
by Sue Monk Kidd

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From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a #1 New York Times bestselling 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.

Hetty “Handful


From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a #1 New York Times bestselling 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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Invention of Wings
“A remarkable novel that heightened my sense of what it meant to be a woman – slave or free . .  a conversation changer.” – Oprah Winfrey, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Exhilarating. . .powerful. . .By humanizing these formidable women, The Invention of Wings furthers our essential understanding of what has happened among us as Americans – and why it still matters.” – The Washington Post
“A textured masterpiece, quietly yet powerfully poking our consciences and our consciousness . . . leaves us feeling uplifted and hopeful.” – NPR
“A searing and soaring story of two women bound together as mistress and slave.” – USA Today
“Kidd has managed to avoid both condescension and cliché, creating an unforgettable character in the slave Handful, the emotional core of her utterly engaging third novel.” – The Boston Globe  
“If this isn’t an American classic-to-be, I don’t know what is. . .this book is as close to perfect as any I’ve ever read.” – The Dallas Morning News
“A powerful story of rebellion and heroism. . .The remarkable courage and hope found in The Invention of Wings is a reminder that we all have those wings – and tells us a lot more about how we got them.” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Kidd has done a marvelous job of capturing two special and vibrant voices. . . I can’t recall reading a book about slavery that presented in such vivid and heartbreaking detail just what the daily life and labor felt like.” – The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A total revelation. . .the book is balanced by two extraordinary women:  real-life abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimké and the imagined handmaiden Handful, who nearly leaps off every page.” – Patrick Bass, Essence

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for The Invention of Wings

“A remarkable novel that heightened my sense of what it meant to be a woman - slave or free. . .will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find her power and her voice. . .Sue Monk Kidd has written a conversation changer.  It is impossible to read this book and not come away thinking differently about our status as women and about all the unsung heroines who played a role in getting us to where we are."—Oprah Winfrey, O The Oprah Magazine
“Alternating between Sarah’s and Handful’s contrasting perspectives on their oddly conjoined worlds allows Kidd to generate unstoppable narrative momentum as she explores the troubled terrain that lies between white and black women in a slaveholding society. . ..the novel’s language can be as exhilarating as its powerful story. . .by humanizing these formidable women, The Invention of Wings furthers our essential understanding of what has happened among us as Americans – and why it still matters.”—Margaret Wrinkle, The Washington Post
“Potent. . .Tells a searing and soaring story of two women bound together as mistress and slave. . .a beautifully written book about the awe-inspiring resilience of America’s enslaved people.  It’s a provocative reminder of why slavery’s wounds still scar the country 250 years later.”—Patty Rhule, USA Today
“[An] epic, affecting tale.”—Andrea Walker, People
“Masterful. . .in short, provocative chapters we step into the lives of these amazingly brave and stalwart women. . .Wings is a story about empowering women to change the world. . .with historical bedrock as her foundation for a compelling narrative, Kidd serves up a remarkable novel about finding your voice.” —Carol Memmott, The Chicago Tribune
The Invention of Wings isn’t just the story of a friendship that defies an oppressive society. . .it’s a much more satisfying story of two people discovering together that their lives are worth the fight.”—Jodi Walker, Entertainment Weekly
“If this isn’t an American classic-to-be, I don’t know what is. . .even after only a few dozen pages, I could tell that this would be one of the best books of 2014. . .this book is as close to perfect as any I’ve ever read.” —Joy Tipping, The Dallas Morning News

“A searing historical novel. . .these two women’s relationship with each other grows more complex while the culture shape-shifts around them.  Their bold individual requests for independence are explored by Kidd in exquisitely nuanced language that makes this book a page turner in the most resonant and satisfying of ways.”More


Meet the Author

Sue Monk Kidd is the award-winning and bestselling author of the novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. She lives in Florida.

Brief Biography

Charleston, South Carolina
Place of Birth:
Albany, Georgia
B.S., Texas Christian University, 1970

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The Invention of Wings 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 581 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I find the "highlighted by Oprah" text to be very distracting to the reading of this book.  I would not have purchased it if I had understood that all the highlighted text would hinder my reading and enjoyment of this book.  Won't purchase books with this "feature" again.  How do I get a copy without the distracting highlighting?
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review – but OMG was I excited when I did receive it because it’s an Oprah’s Book pick and I read alllll of her choices! The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is the kind of book that makes you want to be a better person. The newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick is incredibly moving. The story is told in dual narrative, following Sarah Grimke and a slave named Hetty “Handful” Grimke in the 1800s. Sarah is given Hetty as a gift for her eleventh birthday, and even at that young age, Sarah believes that slavery is immoral. But Sarah is caught in the Charleston upper class lifestyle and is useless in making a change. So she rebels the way she can, giving Hetty the freedom of literacy. Sarah evolves, trying to turn into someone she wants to be: a strong, independent woman, but her dreams are pushed down by everyone, including her family. Only when Sarah leaves the comforts of the South does she truly begin to understand the power that individual voices can have. At the same time, Hetty changes from young, rebellious slave girl to becoming a strong, still rebellious, woman. Both Sarah and Hetty’s stories are mesmerizing. Hetty is such a strong, spunky character who was so much like her mother: unwilling to bow down to every need and want from the master/missus. And then Sarah went fully against her own culture and society in order to fight for what she believed in – equality of all people, no matter the sex or race. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings is a book that makes me want to get out there and make a difference, to take a stand for a cause I truly believe it. The Invention of Wings is inspirational. So pick up this novel and get a little inspired yourself. What cause do you think is necessary to fight for? Thanks for reading,  Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So far, I am only on page 29, but love the book! The only thing that is frustrating for me is that I purchased this for my Nook, and the blue text hyperlinks keep sending me to the Oprah notes at the back of the book! So you have to be very, very careful when "turning" the pages with the blue hyperlinks....I discovered this when I had to find page 10 four times!!! Hopefully, the publisher will fix this soon, because otherwise, it is going to take me a really long time to finish this book!
Georgia-Mom More than 1 year ago
Somehow I have missed reading Sue Monk Kidd's previous novels. My sister handed me an advance copy of 'The Invention of Wings' on Christmas Eve. I finished it four days later and can't wait to read Mrs. Kidd's other work! This novel has stayed with me. The characters, Sarah and Handful, are beautifully developed... their stories intertwined, yet separate. The horrors of slavery and the attitudes toward women of that period, both black and white, are shocking and at times difficult to read. The beauty of Charlotte and Handful's bond and that of the Grimke sisters balances the novel. Strong writing, well researched (read Mrs. Kidd's comments at the end of the text) , haunting, thought provoking, and spiritual...I gladly give this novel 5 stars!
Barnstaple More than 1 year ago
I found the highlighted notes by Oprah to be extremely distracting, thus robbing me of the enjoyment of reading this book. Rather unfortunate, as there doesn't seem to be another version of this nook book available.
barb1740 More than 1 year ago
This is a *wonderful* book, fully as good as The Life of Bees. This edition, however, includes long passages that are underlined with an "O" at the end, denoting a comment by, supposedly, Oprah. Because I find this highlighting to be distracting, spoiling the flow of the wonderfully written prose, I have given this edition a three star rating instead of the five the book deserves. The comments are banal and do not add to the story. I think the publisher made a mistake in this format. Surely the Oprah comments could be included in some other way to be less distracting. I wish there were an unannotated version available.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didn't finish; got tired of Oprah in the first quarter. Don't care what OW thought was meaningful or how she was moved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My review is for the Nook version only, and my rating is solely based on the ridiculous hyperlinked/underlined blue font. I almost didn't buy this book once Oprah named it one of her book picks because I can't stand her, and now I wish I hadn't bought this book. Please sell this book in Nook format without the ridiculous Oprah highlighting or whatever it is. I'd ask for my money back, but I'm still waiting on those eBook credits Barnes and Noble was supposed to send out OVER A YEAR AGO, so I'm sure there's no way I'd get a refund for this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I read, I looked up some of the historical characters, only to find that almost everyone in the book actually existed. Why had I never heard of the Grimke sisters? You will enjoy this book and come to love the characters, most of whom were important in early 19th century abolition efforts and were ahead of their time in feminist rights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really Barnes and Noble? Don't include copyright, contents, etc. as part of the samples. This was a five page sample and hardly enough for a reader to make a decision to purchase the book or not. This seriously has me wondering if I should have gone with Kindle instead of Nook. '
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just started this book and it may be a wonderful book, but I was immediately turned off at all the underlined passages (entire paragraphs and sometimes pages) linking to Oprah's comments. Very distracting, like reading a used book that someone has underlined and made notes in. I prefer to read my books "unadulterated" and to choose whether or not I want to read others' comments. If there is a way to turn off the underlining, I'd sure like to know. A footnote symbol at the end of the passage (which is there too) would suffice to direct the reader to comments if interested and would be much less intrusive. Now I know not to purchase another ebook that says "Oprah's Book Club 2.0 Digital Edition."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wings is based loosely on the real-life story of Sarah Grimke, a Southern aristocrat whose father is a bigshot judge on South Carolina's Supreme Court, where Sarah wants to be eventually. She is given a slave (Handful) for her 11th birthday, which strikes the little firebrand as something ridiculous. How can someone OWN another person? She doesn't want the "gift" but she's forced to accept.  I noticed it was riddled with these blue notes which threw me off. After searching around I realized these were Oprah's notes. No where in the title or book cover did I see anything that suggested that this had Oprah's notes in it, so I returned the kindle book right away. I was very disappointed because I really like this author and wanted to read the book that SHE wrote and form my own opinions. Luckily a friend told me how I could get the book without Oprah's notes by pressing on the plus sign when ordering the book and getting the other edition. Now how many people are going to go back and do that, which is a shame, because so far it's a really good book without Oprah's input.  I feel bad for the author it really is a good book. The book itself is wonderful. Just don't get the "Oprah" copy. I know I never will again.     
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
A Big, Satisfying Read. I have read Kidd's non fiction text with her daughter as well as 'Secret Life of Bee's' and 'Mermaid's Chair'; while I have always appreciated the writing talent in those books, I was never crazy about them--especially 'Mermaid.' But I opened this, curious, and ended up staying up almost all night finishing. This is a big, 'juicy' novel--it moves at a great pace with characters/plot that grab you, and keep you, virtually from the first page. The story of Sarah and her 'gift,' 10 year old Hetty (Handful) is not a warm and fuzzy story, however. Kidd does not back down from the horror and brutality of slavery and there are long stretches where the women are not even in the same place. However, their bond is never entirely destroyed--and from Sarah's desperate attempts to live an independent life to the (sometimes literal) shackles that hold Handful in slavery--Kidd shows how all women at this time were oppressed in different ways. My only quibble is about the ending--it seems to come off too suddenly and leaves some questions in light of what has come before. Yet that is minor--this is not a book to easily forget; these are powerful characters. Indeed, Handful's mother, Charlotte, could have been an entire novel in herself. Book clubs will devour this as well individuals; get it.
Love2learnMB More than 1 year ago
I loved this book.  I understand the author did a lot of research before writing her novel.  If one researches the names they will find these are real people that lived during this unforgivable time and for someone to say it is all lies they must not know their history.  It must have taken a lot to fight slavery when it was accepted by so many, these sisters were way ahead of their time.  Love2learn 
Kimmy78 More than 1 year ago
The Invention of Wings is loaded with inspiration and is for those who like to read books that make you want to make a difference and be a better person. There are many layers and may warrant a second reading in order to absorb every well-chosen word. This is one of those books that make you grateful for the life you have. The strong characters, Sarah and Handful, mold the story perfectly. I foresee that this book will be another haunting and thought-provoking success. I highly recommend.
Books4Tomorrow More than 1 year ago
Based on real, but not widely known historical figures, The Invention of Wings is a poignant, imaginative tale of two sisters in early eighteen-hundred Charleston born into the power and wealth of Charleston’s aristocracy; and a slave named Handful who yearns for freedom. With them the reader embarks on an extensive, yet deeply riveting, journey as these two Grimké sisters undergo a painful metamorphosis breaking from their family, their religion, their homeland, and their traditions, to become exiles, and eventually pariahs, as they crusade not only for the immediate emancipation of slaves, but also for racial equality - an idea that was radical even among their fellow abolitionists. This is a novel with many, many layers, and not one that should be read in the span of a single afternoon. From the very beginning it is clear that the author did her research magnificently as she brings to life and stays true to the contours of Sarah Grimké’s history, her desires, struggles, motivations, crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, loneliness, self-doubt, ostracism, and her suffocating speech impediment. Simultaneously the reader is also thrust into Handful’s world. A world regulated by passes, searches, laws and edicts that controls every second of a slave’s life. An existence enforced by sheer brutality where slaves live in fear of being sent off to the Work House for the slightest perceived defiance of their masters, the City Guard, night watch, curfew, and vigilante committees. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given a ten-year-old slave, named Handful, to be her waiting maid. Defying the laws of South Carolina and her own jurist father who had helped to write those laws, Sarah teaches Handful to read, for which they are later both harshly punished. Of course, this doesn’t stop Sarah from wanting freedom for Handful and all the other slaves, but instead strengthens her resolve to expedite freedom for Handful by secretly continuing to teach her to read. Over time, these two women form an unusual bond which will bind them and serve as their foundation of trust, loyalty, and comfort for years to come. Although their struggles cannot be compared, Sarah and Handful’s lives are paralleled in their pursuit of freedom, albeit a desire for a different kind of freedom. Handful wishes for a life where she and her mother can live their lives on their own terms and make their own choices, whereas Sarah has an intense desire for a vocation, but is restricted to do so by the laws set in place by men.  Once Sarah’s sister, Angelina, is born and Sarah becomes her godmother, Nina is influenced by Sarah’s anti-slavery views which will ultimately shape her into becoming a formidable abolitionist.  I can’t express enough how deeply moved I was by the courage and fearlessness of these three women. Even though the story is told in alternating voices between Handful and Sarah, Angelina’s voice isn’t lost, and there are several secondary characters whose voices will leave a lasting impression on many readers. Supporting characters worth mentioning includes Sarah and Angelina’s devout, intolerant mother who is visibly undemonstrative in her affections towards her children, and often malicious to her slaves, inflicting on them severe and cruel punishments. And then there is Handful’s mother, Charlotte, who in her own subtle way proves to be a defiant, vengeful slave on whose bad side you don’t want to find yourself, but who is also the picture of endurance, strength, and resilience. Justifiably, her spiteful actions and behavior stems from continually having to endure abuse and acts of human depravity that defies the imagination. But let me cut myself short. The Invention of Wings is for fans who enjoyed The Help by Katherine Stockett, and Sue Monk-Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. It’s a glorious treasure trove of metaphors about how we define ourselves and how far we will go to stand up for what we believe in with all our hearts. The author’s interpretation of Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s lives, and their imaginary relationship with the fictional character, Handful, serves as inspiration on how to invent your wings in spite of the difficulties life sometimes have in store for us. In truth, I think everyone will take away something different from this book after reading it. I can’t fault anything in this story - characters, world-building, plot, narrative...anything. Everything was perfect. Even the minuscule amount of romance that was only a mere mention in the background was well-written and tastefully presented. Seriously, you want to read this. Now. Go!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of this author, I loved this book! Must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Woud like to know why, if I prefer to read a book without Oprah's intrusive comments, I have to pay more.Seriously, the non-annotated edition is more expensive. What an ego! Oprah, keep your comments to yourself and let me rad in peace. I actually have my own thoughts.
LoveToReadItAll More than 1 year ago
Loved the story, disliked Oprah's footnotes.  I think the story would have been better told without the constant blue interuptions.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish I had realized this was not the original format. Sections are highlighted in blue throughout the book and distracts from the flow of reading. Also impossible to read if viewing with "night" text, which is when I do most of my reading. Waste of $12.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While this book was interesting, the story was predictable and I didn't think it really stood up to the standard of Monk Kidd's previous work. Check it out of your local library instead of buying it.
JudyDo More than 1 year ago
A really, really great book, the one you'll never forget, the one you want all of your daughters and friends to read, the one you'll read again because it's that kind of book_ that describes how I feel about The Invention of Wings. I live in Charleston and now have a new path to explore the next time I venture through the peninsula.  Thank you, Sue Monk Kidd, for this treasure of a book. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the book. It produced an interesting discussion for club. Did not find Ms. Oprah's comments helpful nor interesting....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book! I loved it from the very first chapter, and couldn't put it down once I started. The story is gripping but sweet, sad but intriguing...and made me laugh sometimes too. The author did a wonderful job writing Hetty's story, as well as Sarah's. Note: I did NOT read this because it's an Oprah book club pick. I lost respect for Oprah when she went crazy over Obama and endorsed him with everything she had. And most of her books are not on my to-read list. This book was good because of Sue Monk Kidd's writing.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
The Invention of Wings is the third novel by bestselling American author, Sue Monk Kidd. In it, Kidd takes the bare facts surrounding Charleston’s famous (and infamous) 19th century abolitionist/emancipist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and, as she puts it, grafts fiction onto truth to weave a fascinating and inspirational account of early abolitionism in America. Kidd employs two narrators: Sarah Grimke, and the slave she is given by her mother (and attempts to free) on her eleventh birthday, Hetty Handful Grimke. From this starting point, the contrast in their lives as they grow up is starkly illustrated. Even at the tender age of eleven, Sarah knew slavery was wrong, but it was years later before she “…saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.” Handful’s narration consistently brings things into perspective: “White folks think you care about everything in the world that happens to them, every time they stub their toe.” Kidd populates her novel with character both real and fictitious: Denmark Vesey, charismatic and seditious; Charlotte, loving and determined; Mary, cruel and unpredictable. Sewing and quilts, the spirit tree, stuttering, blackbirds and Quakers all have their part to play. Through all that life throws at them, the women somehow remain friends. Handful often has a perceptive take on the situation: “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.’” and “This ain’t the same Sarah who left here. She had a firm look in her eye and her voice didn’t dither and hesitate like it used to. She’d been boiled down to a good, strong broth.” Kidd treats the reader to some marvellously descriptive prose: “Mother’s letter in response arrived in September. Her small, tight scrawl was thick with fury and ink.” and “It was the time of year when migrating crows wheeled across the sky, thunderous flocks that moved like a single veil, and I heard them, out there in the wild chirruping air. Turning to the window, I watched the birds fill the sky before disappearing, and when the air was still again, I watched the empty place where they had been” are just two examples. A powerful and moving novel.