Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
Set primarily in pre-Civil War Charleston, The Invention of Wings follows the lives of two unforgettable, unbreakable protagonists. The first is Handful/Hetty, a young slave in the Grimke household. The second is Sarah, one of the Grimke daughters.
The Grimkes are well-to-do plantation owners, living in Charleston. The father is a respected judge. The mother is a southern lady, worn out with bearing too many children, who takes out her frustrations and irritations primarily on her slaves but also on Sarah. On Sarah’s eleventh birthday, she is given Hetty as a gift, a personal maid of her own. Sarah tries to refuse–tries even to free Hetty, but her little rebellion is punished. Her parents are determined to make a slave holder of her.
Sarah and Handful grow up alongside one another. They aren’t friends. They are too aware of the divide between them, but there is a bond, nevertheless. Handful’s life does not revolve around her "mistress." It revolves around her mother and their shared yearning for freedom. As she matures, she learns her mother’s skill as a seamstress and also her mother’s skill at hiding what she is really thinking and planning. Sarah grows to adulthood trying to fit in to Charleston society. She finds herself as ill-suited for Charleston’s ways as the city is for her. Over the course of their lives, each woman searches for her own freedom of mind and body.
Sarah Grimke (and her sister, Angelina) are real historical figures and the novel has its basis in historical fact, though liberties are taken. It’s an inspiring and emotionally gripping read. Fans of this author’s previous work (The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair) will recognize her gift for rich language and character development.
You don’t have to be a historical fiction fan to appreciate this painful and beautiful story.